Donald Trump paid a steep price for his brutal insults and outrageous innuendo against his Republican primary rivals Wednesday when Ted Cruz, who placed second behind Trump in the delegate count, refused to endorse the GOP nominee during his nationally televised speech to the party's convention. The arena rained boos, chants, and jeers on Cruz, widening the Republican Party's cracks into a chasm and completely overshadowing the rollout of Trump's running mate, Mike Pence.
During the Republican presidential primaries, a variety of candidates, including Ted Cruz, were quite candid in their assessments of Donald Trump. GOP White House hopefuls characterized the television personality as a lunatic con artist, a pathological liar, a cancer on the party, and a racist who lacked the morals, intellect, and character necessary to lead.
But after the primaries, most of these critics decided to support Trump anyway. Ted Cruz, however, did not. The Texas senator, offended not only by Trump's lack of integrity, but also by his attacks on Cruz's wife and father, made clear he would not endorse the Republican nominee.
July 21, 201602:59
Not since 1964 has a prominent political leader faced intense booing -- in prime time -- at his or her own party's national convention. Then, it was Nelson Rockefeller who endured jeers from Barry Goldwater's far-right supporters as the New Yorker urged his party to push back against the extremists in their midst. (Republicans didn't listen; Goldwater lost 44 states.)
This year, it was Cruz's turn, with the Texan telling his party, "If you love our country and love your children as much as I know that you do, stand, and speak, and vote your conscience." Convention attendees wanted and expected Cruz to extend his support to the party's nominee, and when he didn't, they turned on him with a vengeance.
It quickly became one of the defining moments of the Republican convention, and easily overshadowed the speech that soon followed -- which was Pence accepting the party's vice presidential nomination.
Whether Cruz's act was noble or disgraceful is a matter of perspective, but it's clear that the senator took a risk of his own by deliberately trying to embarrass his party's presidential nominee at the nominee's own convention.
From Cruz's perspective, this isn't especially complicated: he thinks he's on the right side of history. Not only is Trump unfit for public office, the senator also believes Trump is going to lose, and there will have to be a reckoning as the party reflects on what went wrong.
And while the likes of Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Paul Ryan decided to play along, and put party over principle, Cruz has positioned himself as the Republican who said in effect, "No. I just can't."
What we don't yet know is whether this will help or hurt Cruz going forward. It's hardly a secret that the senator is laying the groundwork for a 2020 campaign, and his convention gambit will either be a stroke of genius or a blot on his record, depending which part of the party you ask. The Texan is taking a calculated risk, casting his lot with the GOP's anti-Trump contingent, and expecting to have an I-told-you-so moment in roughly four months.
At the same time, Cruz is also thumbing his nose at many of the same Republican officials and insiders, who were outraged by what they saw as a classless slight last night, and whose backing he'll likely seek during his next national campaign. The senator largely ran against his party's establishment this year, and he came up far short against Trump. Will running the same play be more effective four years from now?
Either way, as the 2016 Republican National Convention nears its end, Cruz's confrontation with the party's delegates was a striking reminder that all is not well in this party -- and the gathering that was intended to heal old wounds has found them ripped open anew.
Postscript: Things got so intense after the Texan's speech that Heidi Cruz, Ted's wife, reportedly had to be escorted out by security as Republicans taunted and shouted at her. It's probably not what GOP organizers had in mind when they drew up the script for the evening.