CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ted Cruz deviated from his hero Ronald Reagan in his decision to give a speech at the Republican National Convention that was generally non-supportive of party nominee Donald Trump.
Reagan lost the 1976 convention fight to Gerald Ford but still gave a speech that made it clear in no uncertain terms that he was calling for Ford to go forward and win the general election. Cruz, on the other hand, told people to vote their “conscience,” borrowing a term from the failed #NeverTrump “Free the Delegates” movement that was whipped up by Cruz supporters.
Cruz ran long, talking about policy and his parents, while delegates started chanting, “Endorse Trump! Endorse Trump!”
Before Cruz finished speaking, Trump appeared and motioned to the delegates. Cruz at first thought the sudden massive ovation was for him, before he did a veritable spit take and realized that Trump was upstaging him from the crowd. Cruz laughed awkwardly and left the stage. Meanwhile, wife Heidi Cruz was escorted out of the convention by security as Trump fans jeered her with taunts of “Goldman Sachs!” Newt Gingrich then took the stage and settled the score, saying that Cruz’s invitation for people to vote their “conscience” for a constitutionalist means that, obviously, people should vote for Trump.
Below is the footage of the relatively disgraceful moment in convention history, which Trump rescued with his trademark populist crowd-friendly charm.
This moment was a far cry from Ronald Reagan’s surprise 1976 speech in support of Gerald Ford after Ford bested him in a convention fight. Reagan was the favorite of an insurgent popular movement who fell that year to the Establishment. His feelings were hurt. But unlike Cruz, Reagan decided to be the bigger man and support Ford for president in no uncertain terms.
Reagan did not formally use the term “I endorse” when speaking about Ford, but he clearly called for a Ford victory as soon as he took the stage.
Reagan referred to Ford’s running mate, Bob Dole, as the “vice president to be,” prompting applause from the crowd of delegates.
“We must go forth from here united, determined that what a great general said a few years ago is true: There is no substitute for victory, Mr. President,” Reagan said in closing.
Reagan biographer Craig Shirley said that Reagan did not endorse Ford, but CNN commentator Jeffrey Lord, who writes on political history for The American Spectator, said that Reagan supported Ford, both in the election and later in the White House. Lord served as Reagan’s associate political director in the White House.
Ford lost to Jimmy Carter that November anyway, giving Reagan a clear path to the nomination four years later in 1980. But he still supported Ford, whose potential victory that year could have kept Reagan off the Republican ticket for eight years and probably would have cost our country the Reagan presidency. Reagan rose to the occasion and showed class and Republican Party ideals.
If Cruz thinks a Trump loss to Hillary Clinton could give him the nomination in 2020, he still could have endorsed Trump. But he simply chose not to.
Sources reported that Cruz staffers tried to get Cruz to change his mind before his speech, but Cruz was firm in his commitment not to endorse.
In so doing, Cruz proved that while he is a top conservative movement leader, he is no Reagan.