In some ways, the scandal that took place last night at the Republican national convention, was not a surprise.
Reportedly those who mattered, knew in advance what was coming. As Bloomberg writes, earlier in the day, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort said he would be personally viewing the Cruz speech in advance. "I'm comfortable that Senator Cruz is going to talk about his vision for America," Manafort said. "He'll give a sign of where he is on Donald Trump that will be pleasing to the Trump campaign and to Republicans." Cruz told Trump two days ago he wouldn't be endorsing him Wednesday night, and that the Trump folks knew what to expect in his speech, according to Cruz strategist Jason Johnson.
This goes to a question Bloomberg posed shortly after the speech: "the problem for Trump wasn't just the lack of an endorsement from Cruz. The speech raised questions about why Trump -- who has campaigned on his extraordinary negotiating skills -- allowed Cruz to take stage."
"Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn't honor the pledge! I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!" Trump said late Wednesday on Twitter.
However, for many when Ted Cruz decided to snub Donald Trump with his refusal to officially endorse the presidentical candidate, it was a stunning surprise, and led the crowd in Cleveland to erupt in a chorus of boos while the political media exploded.
Surprising or not, the outpouring of condemnations was fast and furious.
In Bloomberg's take of the night's events, Cruz, infamous in the Senate for a reputation of looking out only for himself, proved again that he was willing to go it alone as the party rallied around Trump during an evening of speeches from Republican heavyweights and some of its most ambitious politicians.
Cruz's speech seemed to amount to a political bet that Trump will lose the election, and that opting not to throw his lot in with the nominee will preserve his fortunes in 2020. Unclear is whether the gambit will backfire on Cruz by prompting Republicans to blame him for refusing to get in line and help unite the party when it mattered most.
The Hill's take is even more dire: "The Republican National Convention careened off the rails here on Wednesday night as Ted Cruz refused to endorse Donald Trump from the stage and was met with deafening boos. It was an extraordinary scene of disunity, the like of which has not been seen at a party convention in a generation. The chaos on the convention floor — which included angry words of recrimination from prominent Republicans in the immediate aftermath — totally overshadowed Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s acceptance of the GOP’s vice presidential nomination."
It also dealt a shattering blow to hopes on the part of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee that the GOP would unite here after a long and bitter primary season.
Roger Stone, a former advisor and longtime friend of Trump, called Cruz a “dumb son of a bitch” in a convention center interview with The Hill just after the Texan’s speech ended. Stone added that Cruz was “a despicable human being” and insisted that “no voter gives a crap about what Ted Cruz does — the only person this hurts is Ted Cruz.”
As we reported last night, in another sign of the dark tone of the night, security guards had to escort Ted Cruz’s wife out of the Quicken Loans Arena for her own safety. Former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, a close Cruz confidant who was sitting with Heidi Cruz as her husband spoke, told reporters he saw Trump supporters threatening her. "People behind her were getting very ugly and physically approaching her and [Cruz's father] Rafael," he said. "It was not a pretty situation, and the decision was instantly made to not talk to media and get immediately out of the arena."
The key moments of Cruz’s speech, particularly his urging of attendees to “vote your conscience,” will be replayed endlessly on cable news for at least the next 24 hours. So too will the scenes that followed.
For those who missed it, things escalated fast: as the speech wound toward its conclusion and delegates realized that Cruz would make no endorsement, Trump loyalists sprang to their feet, shouting their displeasure. Some people on the convention floor yelled “Lyin’ Ted” and “Go home!” while others gesticulated wildly. CNN’s Anderson Cooper said on-air that there were also reports “that Ted Cruz went up to one of the donor boxes and was accosted by Trump supporters yelling in his face. One person had to be apparently restrained because they were so angry."
The furor erupted just as the convention seemed to be recovering from the controversy over Melania Trump’s Monday address, which a Trump speechwriter admitted plagiarized from a 2008 Michelle Obama speech. The good news is that the Melania flap is now long forgotten, having been replaced by the Cruz-related uproar.
Within moments of the speech ending, big-name Republicans were excoriating Cruz. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom Trump had seriously considered naming as his running mate, told CNN’s Dana Bash that the Texas senator’s speech was “awful and selfish.” New York Congressman Peter King told NBC News that Cruz was “a fraud, he’s a liar, he’s self-centered and disqualified himself from ever being considered for president of the United States.”
It wasn't all criticism, however, and some defenders of Cruz emerged. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, standing with his wife and the Utah delegation told The Hill, "People will have to speak for themselves. I personally don't do that. I don't boo people at my own political convention because they're not my candidate.”
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich sought to calm the shocked crowd with his own speech before Pence appeared. Gingrich insisted that Cruz’s comments had been misunderstood. But teleprompters in the arena included a line in Gingrich’s prepared remarks that he had to excise on the fly, since it had clearly been written under the assumption that Cruz would endorse Trump. Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker reported that the line was “Senator Ted Cruz in particular made the key point that we need to elect the Trump-Pence Republican ticket.”
Pence emerged into an arena that was still unsettled by the Cruz shocker. He delivered a smooth speech that was punctuated by several moments of winning self-deprecation in its early stages. At the conclusion Pence insisted that “We have but one choice and that man is ready, this team is ready, our party is ready, and when we elect Donald Trump the 45th president of the United States, together we will make America great again.”
At that point, Trump himself joined Pence on stage and embraced him, drawing roars of approval from the crowd.
But even the feel-good end to the night would not escape the shock of what had gone before.
As The Hill concludes, this was a night that shook the Republican Party badly — and caused undisguised jubilation among Democrats. Soon after Cruz finished speaking, a three-word tweet was published on Hillary Clinton’s account. “Vote your conscience,” it read.
Vote your conscience. https://t.co/xahMq2sU1q— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 21, 2016