Unconventional #41: RNC Day Four — The ‘Boos Cruz’ Edition

·West Coast Correspondent

Coming to you live every morning from Cleveland, Unconventional is the one thing you need to read to understand what’s really happening at the conventions. Each edition will provide a behind-the-scenes look at the biggest (and weirdest) moments of the day, with original dispatches from the entire Yahoo Politics team — plus a sneak peek at what’s next.

‘Traitor!’

People react to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as he addresses delegates during the third day session of the RNC in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 20, 2016. (Photo: Matt Rourke/AP Photo)
People react to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as he addresses delegates during the third day session of the RNC in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 20, 2016. (Photo: Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

CLEVELAND — The official theme of the penultimate night of the Republican National Convention was “Make America First Again.”

And Ted Cruz didn’t disagree.

He just disagreed that putting Donald Trump first was the best way to do it.

In an emotional, precedent-shattering address Wednesday, Trump’s vanquished primary rival followed his own conscience — and pursued his own agenda — by refusing to endorse his party’s newly minted nominee while implicitly putting himself forward as an alternative party leader should Trump crash and burn in November.

In response, thousands of delegates booed and turned their backs on the Texas senator, choosing instead to face Trump, who had materialized on the other side of the Quicken Loans Arena in silent, seething protest.

“Vote for Trump! Vote for Trump!” they shouted. “Go home, Ted!”

It was perhaps the most clamorous and divisive convention moment since 1976, when Cruz’s hero Ronald Reagan challenged incumbent President Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination.

For weeks, the media was abuzz about whether Cruz would show support for Trump. But after a primary in which the tycoon mocked the senator as “Lyin’ Ted” and linked his father — erroneously — to Lee Harvey Oswald, Cruz couldn’t bring himself to do it.

The most Cruz could muster was a curt congratulations.

“I congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination last night,” Cruz said 20 seconds into his speech. He went on to add — in a line that wasn’t part of his prepared remarks — that, “like each of you, I want to see the principles that our party believes in prevail in November.”

Not the nominee. The principles. Cruz didn’t mention Trump again.

From left to right in foreground, Vanessa Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Tiffany Trump stand as they listen to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speak on the third day of the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
From left to right in foreground, Vanessa Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Tiffany Trump stand as they listen to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speak on the third day of the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

There was a reason Cruz started his speech with an allusion to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ “incredible comeback victory” in the 2016 NBA finals. Since suspending his campaign in early May, he has been busily plotting his own return.

Three weeks after the decisive Indiana primary, Cruz traveled to Mexico with his wife, Heidi, his campaign chairman, his campaign manager and his national finance chairman. He soon demanded “a massive, top-to-bottom review of the decisions made in the presidential primary.” And in late June, he invited more than 100 of his top bundlers and donors to a retreat in La Jolla, Calif.

They seem to have concluded that the convention was the proper place to launch Cruz’s 2020 campaign — and that the proper way to do it, strategically, was by speaking out against Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party.

“What if this, right now, is our last time?” Cruz said, speaking as much to himself as to the delegates. “Our last moment to do something for our families and our country?”

“Did we live up to our values?” he continued. “Did we do all we could?”

And with that, Cruz was off.

Much of what the senator said was unsurprising. He made common cause with “citizens [who] are furious — rightly furious — at a political establishment that cynically breaks its promises and ignores the will of the people.” He criticized President Obama as “a man who does everything backwards.” He spoke about children, and Abraham Lincoln, and the United States’ quest to put a man on the moon.

But under the rubric of “a return to freedom,” Cruz also embraced a “vision for our future” — one he implied was “better” than both Clinton’s and Trump’s — that emphasized his more libertarian leanings and softened some of his sharp edges.

Gone were the strident appeals to the religious right. In their place were lines like “gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience” and “The internet? Keep it free from taxes, free from regulation.” Cruz bemoaned “partisan rancor” and hailed his party’s historical commitment to civil rights. He even reminded the audience, implicitly, that he supports letting each state decide whether to legalize marijuana, which puts him well outside the GOP mainstream.

“We deserve leaders who stand for principle,” Cruz said, again contrasting himself with Trump. “Unite us all behind shared values. Cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect, from everybody.”

When the delegates in the Quicken Loans Arena realized that Cruz was reaching the end of his remarks with no endorsement in sight, many began to boo. Some threatened Heidi Cruz, who had to be escorted backstage.

The senator didn’t back down. In an apparent allusion to the failed, months-long campaign by some of his supporters to free the GOP delegates to “vote their consciences” in Cleveland, Cruz urged “those listening” not to “stay home in November.”

“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,” Cruz said.

The message was unmistakable: It’s OK if you can’t stomach the thought of voting for Trump. Vote for true conservatives instead.

Spectators react as Texas Sen. — and former Republican presidential hopeful — Ted Cruz speaks on the third day of the 2016 Republican National Convention. (Photo: David Maxwell/EPA)
Spectators react as Texas Sen. — and former Republican presidential hopeful — Ted Cruz speaks on the third day of the 2016 Republican National Convention. (Photo: David Maxwell/EPA)

Right beneath Cruz’s podium, the delegation from New York — Trump’s home state — howled in disgust.

“I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation,” Cruz said, as the jeers grew louder.

Then, in a twist out of reality TV, Trump himself emerged from the wings, pumping his fist as he joined his family in the VIP box across the hall. He stood erect and jut-jawed, glaring at Cruz.

All at once, thousands of delegates pivoted toward their nominee, as if pulled by some sort of gravitational force.

“Thank you,” Cruz said. “And may God bless the United States of America.”

The delegates booed. Cruz’s speech was over. Their backs were turned to him.

The program continued as planned in the aftermath of Cruz’s mutiny. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attempted to soothe the delegates; Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, delivered a rousing address that would have dominated coverage on any other day.

But just when the GOP’s troubled convention seemed to be getting back on track, all anyone in Cleveland could talk about was Cruz. Word began to spread of Republicans accosting the senator backstage and yelling, “Traitor!”; GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson reportedly refused to admit Cruz to his suite.

Predictably, Trump weighed in on Twitter.

“Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn’t honor the pledge!” Trump wrote in reference to the vow Cruz made last September to support the eventual nominee. “I saw his speech two hours early, but let him speak anyway. No big deal!”

Others were less sanguine. “I think it was awful,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNN. “I think it was selfish. To say cute things like: ‘You should vote for the candidate you believe in from the top of the ticket to bottom’ — this is the kind of Washington talk that people in this country are repelled by. I sat there shaking my head.”

On Friday morning, Cruz doubled down when a Texas delegate questioned his decision, dispatching with the previous evening’s politesse to lay directly into Trump.

That pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi that I’m going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say, ‘Thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father,’” Cruz snapped.

The bet Cruz is making is that Trump will lose in November — and that, by 2020, Republicans will see things his way.

It’s a huge risk. And no one — not even Cruz — has any idea whether it will pay off.

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Oh, and some other people spoke too

Conservative political commentator Laura Ingraham speaks during the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 20, 2016. (Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP)
Conservative political commentator Laura Ingraham speaks during the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 20, 2016. (Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered.

Olivier Knox on Mike Pence: “In the most important speech of his political life, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence introduced himself to voters late Wednesday as a man holding to impeccable conservative credentials, risen from modest all-American roots, married three decades to the love of his life, and possessing a sense of humor about himself. In other words, Donald Trump’s most important advocate cast himself as the anti-Trump.”

Hunter Walker on Newt Gingrich: “Cruz’s speech left many of the party delegates and activists on the convention floor booing. However, Gingrich argued they ‘misunderstood’ the senator’s remarks. … ‘To paraphrase Ted Cruz, if you want to protect the Constitution of the United States, the only possible candidate this fall is the Trump/Pence Republican ticket,’ Gingrich argued.”

Liz Goodwin on Scott Walker: “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker officially, and somewhat tepidly, endorsed Donald Trump on the convention stage Wednesday, a full 10 months after dropping out of the Republican primary. …’ Last August, I said that any of the Republicans running would be better than Hillary Clinton,’ he explained. ‘I meant it then, and I mean it now. So let me be clear: A vote for anyone other than Donald Trump in November is a vote for Hillary Clinton.’”

Jerry Adler on Laura Ingraham: “Over the course of the Republican National Convention, Hillary Clinton has been denounced as a criminal (to chants of ‘Lock her up!’), linked (by way of a long-dead social activist) to Lucifer, and nominated (by a Trump adviser, speaking on a Boston radio show) to be ‘shot for treason.’ So there wasn’t much left in the way of insults for conservative radio host and author Laura Ingraham to throw at Clinton when she took the podium Wednesday evening. But Ingraham rose to the occasion, comparing Clinton to ‘man buns.’”

Holly Bailey on Eric Trump: “Repeatedly invoking unemployed workers, single mothers and veterans who struggled under the care of the federal government, Eric Trump said his father had put a successful business career on hold out of love of country and a desire to ‘turn dreams into reality’ for all Americans, as he had done for himself. ‘To make this sacrifice, to run for the most powerful yet unforgiving office in the world. There is no greater calling and there is more selfless act,’ Eric Trump said. ‘My father is running for you.’”

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Overheard

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How do you solve a problem like The Donald?

Worth noting: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also appeared in the Q last night; he just wasn’t on stage.

Instead, Rubio beamed in via Jumbotron to deliver the full-throated Trump endorsement that Cruz had denied the delegates — and that, until now, Rubio himself had refused to utter.

“After a long and spirited primary, the time for fighting each other is over,” Rubio said, praising Trump’s positions on taxes, terrorism and the Supreme Court. “It’s time to win in November.”

Seeing Rubio, Walker, and Cruz speak in quick succession was a striking reminder of how challenging it is for Republicans to respond to the rise of Trump — especially Republicans who want to run for president again.

How do you solve a problem like The Donald? Which approach puts you in the best position for future electoral success? Pulling a total 180, but refusing to do it person (a là Rubio)? Showing just enough deference to avoid the blame for a Clinton victory in November (a là Walker)? Or openly rebelling on the convention stage (a là Cruz)?

It’s a cliché, but in this case, it’s true: Only time will tell.

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Convention diary

Click through for the full Yahoo News Convention Diary from South Carolina delegate Jerry Rovner.

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Finally: Trump speaks tonight. Here’s what he should say.

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump gives two thumbs up while introducing his wife, Melania, on the first day of the Republican National Convention, July 18, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump gives two thumbs up while introducing his wife, Melania, on the first day of the Republican National Convention, July 18, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

At least according to Yahoo News National Political Columnist Matt Bai:

I’d resist any advice to go all Mitt Romney on the national audience tonight. You’ve already made your choice about how you’re going to run and maybe even win this race, and it has nothing to do with broadening the party’s appeal.

I remember when I met you back in 1999, when you were first playing around with presidential politics, and you were talking about breaking up the two-party paradigm and making government work. I think there’s a version of you that could have run that campaign this time, had there been any real market for it.

I don’t think you started out thinking you would demonize immigrant groups or attack powerful women. I think you realized early on where the most visceral emotion was in the Republican electorate, and you seized on it, because that’s what you’re great at.

And if it makes the rest of the party cringe, then so be it, right? Because the anger you’re channeling is something you feel, too. You know what it’s like to suffer the contempt of the enlightened, and they don’t. You’ve known it all your life.

So this has become your theory of the race — not to persuade anyone of your underlying prudence or intellect, but to galvanize huge numbers of enraged white men (and a lot of enraged white women, too) who feel left behind, Americans who fear social change and despise their political leadership.

That’s been the unrelenting theme of this convention, the darkest and most divisive such gathering any of us have ever seen, from one bilious speaker to the next.

There’s no joy or idealism here in Cleveland. It’s like Reagan’s “morning in America” — if you were being hanged in the morning.

And if your entire candidacy is going to be a conduit for rage, Donald, then you might as well ride it. Go off script. Wave your hands like a madman. Feed off the crowd. Make the convention into a primetime rally.

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The big picture

Photographer Khue Bui is on the ground in Cleveland, capturing all of the action for Yahoo News. Here’s his most unconventional pic of the day.

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks during the RNC Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 20, 2016. (Photo: Khue Bui for Yahoo News)
Sen. Ted Cruz speaks during the RNC Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 20, 2016. (Photo: Khue Bui for Yahoo News)

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By the numbers

A law enforcement officer tries to extinguish a burning American flag on July 20, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio, during the third day of the RNC. (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)
A law enforcement officer tries to extinguish a burning American flag on July 20, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio, during the third day of the RNC. (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)

10,867: The number of people registered, as of July 1, to protest during the RNC

23: The number of protestors arrested so far

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What to watch Thursday

Theme: Make America One Again

7:20 PM Session:

Remarks by Brock Mealer, a motivational speaker

Remarks by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee

Remarks by Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma

Remarks by Dr. Lisa Shin of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump

Remarks by Reince Priebus, chairman of the national Republican Party

Remarks Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University

Remarks by Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist and hedge fund manager who co-founded PayPal

Remarks Tom Barrack, CEO of Colony Capital, an international investment firm

Remarks by Ivanka Trump, the second of Trump’s five children and executive vice president of the Trump Organization

Remarks by Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president

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