Anybody hoping for a moment of healing and unification in the GOP when Ted Cruz took the stage at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night is now sorely disappointed.
It got ugly.
In the hours before the speech, a report suggested that Cruz would challenge Trump in a primary in 2020 even if Trump wins the presidency. Cruz notably didn't endorse his party's nominee in his speech, offering only his congratulations.
And in fact, he congratulated Trump the same way he congratulated Cleveland's LeBron James on winning an NBA championship — and just as briefly, before proceeding to the rest of his speech.
Later, he said: "And, to those listening, please don't stay home in November. If you love our country and love our children as much as 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."
That seemed to set off the crowd. As Cruz's speech wound down, they loudly pleaded with Cruz to actually endorse Trump. Cruz powered through, but much of the crowd wasn't listening. Increasingly, there were boos.
Cruz quipped in response. "I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation," he said, in reference to Trump's home state.
That didn't help.
CNN's Manu Raju reported that Cruz's wife, Heidi Cruz, was escorted out amid the scene, with some yelling about her former employer, Goldman Sachs.
HEIDI CRUZ escorted out by security as crowd gets angry at Cruz for his speech. One Trump supporter shouting "Goldman Sachs!" at her
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 21, 2016
Here's video apparently showing her leaving the scene.
Angry Ken Cuccinelli escorting Heidi Cruz out as Trump supporters yell at her pic.twitter.com/G6USuhoSx2
— Graham Moomaw (@gmoomaw) July 21, 2016
Trump's own conduct during the speech was highly questionable. He arrived at the convention hall as Cruz was getting started, and numerous TV channels cut to Trump walking in behind the scenes. By the end of the speech, with the crowd chanting that Cruz should endorse Trump, Trump was seen inside the area, and the cameras cut to him again as he waved to the crowd and gave a thumbs-up.
And really, it should all be no surprise. There were seriously hard feelings during and after the GOP primary. Trump insulted the appearance of Cruz's wife, threatened to "spill the beans" on her and even referenced a tabloid report that Cruz's father might have been involved in the Kennedy assassination.
After that first slight — done via retweet — Cruz labeled Trump a "sniveling coward."
“Donald, you're a sniveling coward,” Cruz said, punctuating his words with a finger point. “Leave Heidi the hell alone."
Politicians often kiss and make up after saying horrible things about one another. But this was all personal, and perhaps Cruz never really got over it.
Cruz was given a slot in prime time at the convention despite not promising to endorse Trump. Other speakers have endorsed Trump in various ways but declined to say much about him; Cruz wouldn't even go that far.
The embers of the 2016 primary campaign were still hot heading into this convention and Wednesday night, and the story about Cruz's 2020 plans surely threw some fuel on them. Even as their clashes are now months-old, it appears some very hard feelings are still fresh. Trump is not known to follow political protocol, but showing up in the arena during a major speech from your former rival is a political no-no — and will surely be seen as a slight and an attempt to upstage of Cruz.
In his speech shortly after Cruz, Newt Gingrich sought to play peacemaker.
“I think you misunderstood one paragraph that Ted Cruz — who is a superb orator — said,” Gingrich said. “Ted Cruz said you can vote your conscience for anyone who can uphold the Constitution. In this election, there is only one candidate who will uphold the Constitution. So to paraphrase Ted Cruz, if you protect the Constitution of the United States, the only possible candidate this fall is the Trump-Pence Republican ticket.”
Another top Trump surrogate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), offered a far less favorable reaction.
"It was an awful, selfish speech," Chris Christie tells NBC News about Ted Cruz
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) July 21, 2016
But Cruz had to know how his words could be interpreted. He didn't endorse Trump — even in broad terms — for a reason. And it's a wonder the "conscience" line wasn't flagged for it's potential incisiveness.
It was a stunning bit of political theater — and in a convention filled with plenty of distractions, it threatens to be a definitive one.