CLEVELAND: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) left the stage Wednesday night to a chorus of boos after declining to directly endorse Donald Trump for president.
The Texas senator, who fought a personal primary battle against Trump earlier this year, also threatened to steal media attention in the next day from vice presidential candidate Mike Pence’s prime-time address.
Cruz congratulated Trump for winning the nomination, but never specifically encouraged voters to pull the lever for the Republican nominee.
"Do not stay home in November," he told the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. "If you love our country and love your children as much as I know you do, stand and vote your conscience. Vote for conservatives up and down the ticket who will be faithful to the Constitution."
"Conscience" is a loaded term to many at the convention. Supporters of Cruz had pushed for the adoption of a "conscience clause" in the party’s rules that would have unbound delegates and could have resulted in a floor fight for the nomination, but they were ultimately defeated.
Cruz, who entered to thunderous applause, left the stage to emphatic boos, with the delegation from Trump’s home state of New York front-and-center. Cruz’s wife, Heidi, was rushed from the convention floor, and the senator was verbally accosted by upset delegates, according to media reports.
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 21, 2016
Cruz’s non-endorsement threatened to overshadow the acceptance speech of Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who began his address on a biographical note and quickly turned to the traditional attack-dog role of the vice presidential candidate.
"This is the outsider, my running mate, who turned a long-shot campaign into a movement," he said. "Over in the other party, if the idea was to present an exact opposite of an outsider, the exact opposite of an uncalculating truth-teller, then you have to hand it to the Democratic establishment."
Pence was joined by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who called him "a Reagan Republican through and through; pro life, pro growth, and pro defense." Republican nominee Donald Trump joined Pence on stage after his address before giving way to Pence’s family.
A troika of early distractions
Media coverage of plagiarism accusations against Melania Trump dragged on through Wednesday afternoon. Hours after campaign manager Paul Manafort again denied on CNN that her Monday night speech was copied from Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention address, Trump prolonged the story by tweeting about the controversy.
"Good news is Melania's speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics especially if you believe that all press is good press!," the Republican nominee tweeted.
Within hours, speechwriter and longtime Trump family friend Meredith McIver released a statement taking responsibility for the incident and apologizing. She said she submitted her resignation to Donald Trump, but he refused it.
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign was forced to distance itself from delegate and veterans issues adviser Al Baldasaro, who told a New Hampshire radio station on Tuesday that Clinton "should be put in the firing line and shot for treason" over her handling of Benghazi.
An unnamed senior adviser to Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is sitting out the convention despite it taking place in his state, told The New York Times Magazine that Donald Trump Jr. called in May to gauge Kasich’s interest in joining the ticket. The kicker: the unidentified source claimed Trump Jr. offered Kasich control of foreign and domestic policy in a Trump administration, freeing up the president to focus on "making America great again."