CLEVELAND – Fresh off his headline-grabbing non-endorsement of Donald Trump last night at the Republican National Convention, Ted Cruz defended his principled stand Thursday morning at a breakfast for the Texas delegation.
He faced a delegation that was by turns disapproving and supportive, much like the larger crowd last night in the convention hall. One delegate challenged Cruz on breaking his pledge to support the GOP nominee: “I supported you, and I expected you to keep your word and say that your word is your bond,” the woman said to cheers from the audience. “If you didn’t mean to say it, then you shouldn’t have said it.”
Cruz, in his usual manner, calmly responded that his pledge to support the nominee was nullified “the day this became personal.”
“I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father,” he said. “And that pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi that I’m gonna nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say, ‘Thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father.’”
He went on to argue that politics “isn’t a team sport with red shirts and blue shirts. It’s about principles and ideals,” and he reiterated his argument from last night, saying, “We either stand for shared principles, or we’re not worth anything.”
Anyone who has been paying attention to Cruz over the past year should have known he was going to take this route and would be unfazed even by angry members of his home state delegation. Cruz has bet his political future on being the one GOP candidate who didn’t betray his principles or run away from the convention.
Plenty of Republican politicians are in both of those categories. Many of Trump’s primary rivals have not only capitulated to him but chose to come to the convention this week, like governors Chris Christie and Scott Walker, and shill for a man they once claimed was unfit for the office.
Cruz, by contrast, is making the most of his moment as the last man standing. At the Thursday breakfast he expanded on the bombshell he dropped last night, urging the delegates to “vote your conscience.” Cruz said: “What does it say when you stand up and say ‘vote your conscience,’ and rabid supporters of our nominee begin screaming ‘What a horrible thing to say!’ If we can’t make the case to the American people that voting for our party’s nominee is consistent with voting your conscience, is consistent with defending freedom and being faithful to the Constitution, then we are not going to win, and we don’t deserve to win.”
The one bit of news to come out of the breakfast is no surprise: Cruz said he won’t encourage anyone to write his name in, and he won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton. Asked whether he will vote for Trump, Cruz replied, as he has many times before, that like many Americans he’s watching and listening, waiting to see whether Trump can become the kind of candidate he can square with his conscience.
Although Cruz’s vote in November might still be uncertain, one thing is perfectly clear on the last day of the RNC here in Cleveland: Ted Cruz isn’t backing down.