Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence drew cheers for his speech Wednesday, but when the third night of the Republican National Convention was over, the topic that dominated conversation was the churlish performance of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
The crowd in the Quicken Arena loudly booed Cruz for failing to endorse Trump during his primetime speech. Cruz only mentioned the party’s nominee once, and it was not an endorsement. “I want to congratulate Donald Trump for winning the nomination last night,” Cruz said. “And like each of you I want to see the principles of our party prevail in November.”
However, Cruz did not say that Trump represented “the principles of our party,” and telling viewers to “vote their conscience” didn’t clarify matters. “To those listening, please, don’t stay home in November,” Cruz said. “If you love our country, and love your children as much as I know you do, stand, and speak, and vote your conscience; vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”
At that point in Cruz’s speech, some delegates began shouting angrily, prompting the Texas senator — who fought a bitter primary campaign against Trump for the GOP nomination — to remark, “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation.” By the time he finished, the crowd was booing loudly.
“BOOS CRUZ” was the front-page headline of Thursday’s Boston Herald, sent out via Twitter not long after Cruz’s speech ended. The loser of the Republican primaries, by his spoilsport gesture, cast a shadow over the entire night’s proceedings.
State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, the first Hispanic elected to the Kentucky legislature, gave a strong speech that ended with him saying in Spanish: “Vote with me. Vote Republican. And for Donald Trump.” The crowd was energized by Pastor Darrell Scott, of New Spirit Revival Center Ministries in Cleveland Heights. Delegates cheered as Scott said Trump will “rebuild the broken trust that now exists between our citizens and our government, which over the last eight years has brought the rhetoric of hope, but the reality of higher minority unemployment, crime, drug use, with more civil unrest and national distress.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker led the crowd in a call-and-response on the theme, “America deserves better.”
After Cruz’s bummer of a speech, it fell to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to try to get the evening back on track. “Ted Cruz said you can vote your conscience for anyone who will uphold the Constitution,” Gingrich said. “In this election there is only one candidate who will uphold the Constitution. So to paraphrase Ted Cruz, the only way to protect that is to vote for the Trump/Pence ticket.”
Gingrich went on to praise the party’s nominee, especially for taking seriously the threat of Islamic terrorism.
“Donald Trump is right. We are at war with radical Islam, we are losing the war, and we must change course to win the war,” Gingrich said, and concluded his speech by reiterating the convention theme: “We can make America safe again. We can make America work again. We can make America first again, and together, we can make America great again.”
The evening ended with the vice-presidential nominee in the spotlight, as Pence introduced himself to America with self-deprecating humor.
“You know, he’s a man known for his large personality, a colorful style, and lots of charisma, and so, well, I guess he was looking for someone to balance the ticket,” Pence said. “Well, for those of you who don’t know me, which is most of you, I grew up on the front row of the American dream.”
Pence repeated his often-used self-description – “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order” and invoked Ronald Reagan’s famous “rendezvous with destiny” line to summon the nation to make a choice in November.
“The choice could not be more clear,” Pence said. “Americans can elect someone who literally personifies the failed establishment in Washington, D.C., or we can choose a leader who will fight every day to make America great again. It’s change versus status quo and, my fellow Republicans, when Donald Trump becomes President of the United States of America the change will be huge!”
Pence’s impressive performance — calm and serious, but also confident and optimistic — was more important than anything Cruz said. The delegates erupted in a spontaneous chant of “We like Mike!” The Indiana governor presented himself well and his wholehearted praise for Trump was the kind of endorsement that really matters.