CLEVELAND — A defiant Sen. Ted Cruz on Thursday refused to commit to voting for Donald Trump in the fall election, saying the pledge he took to support the eventual GOP presidential nominee was voided when Mr. Trump started attacking his family on the campaign trail.
During an at-times contentious event with the Texas delegation at the Republican National Convention, Mr. Cruz steadfastly stuck to his guns — and also took a shot at those who chose to simply skip the GOP convention.
An audience member reminded Mr. Cruz he took a pledge to support the GOP nominee, and the person said they supported Mr. Cruz and expected him to keep his word.
Mr. Cruz said he had intended to abide by the pledge candidates had made on a debate stage last year, but he said the day the pledge was “abrogated” was the day “this became personal.”
“I’m not going to get into criticizing or attacking Donald Trump, but I’ll just give you this response: I am not in the habit of supporting people that attack my wife and attack my father,” he said, repeating a similar line he had used on the campaign trail.
“And 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,’ ” he said to applause.
Someone in the crowd said it was “politics” and advised Mr. Cruz to “get over it.”
“No, this is not politics,” Mr. Cruz replied. “I will tell the truth. I will not malign, I will not insult, I will not attack — I will tell the truth. This is not a game. It is not politics. Right and wrong matters. We have not abandoned who we are in this country.”
“No, sir — I do not believe that is correct,” he said.
Ahead of the April 5 Wisconsin primary, Mr. Trump had retweeted an unflattering image of Mr. Cruz’s wife, Heidi, next to an image of his own wife, Melania.
And on the morning of the May 3 Indiana primary, Mr. Trump cited a tabloid report that drew a connection between Mr. Cruz’s father, Rafael, and JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
Mr. Cruz did say he is not voting for likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
He said he would be listening to Mr. Trump’s speech on Thursday and watching how the candidate and his campaign conduct themselves going forward.
“I am watching and listening,” Mr. Cruz said. “When friends of mine, when supporters of mine are asking what to do, the answer I give to everyone is follow your conscience. Do what you believe is right. Do what you believe defends your children and defends this country.”
Mr. Cruz had likewise said in his speech on Wednesday that people should follow their conscience — which had been a code word for some at the convention to consider supporting the Texas Republican himself.
“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?’ ” Mr. Cruz said Thursday.
He was greeted with resounding boos Wednesday after he did not explicitly endorse Mr. Trump in his speech.
But Mr. Cruz said Thursday that Mr. Trump and his team should have seen it coming. He said he told Mr. Trump by phone three days ago he wasn’t going to endorse him and that the campaign saw his speech a few hours beforehand.
“In that speech last night, I did not say a single negative word about Donald Trump,” Mr. Cruz said. “And I’ll tell you this morning and going forward, I don’t intend to say negative things about Donald Trump.”
He also took a shot at Republicans who refused to even attend the convention and said there were other options he could have taken that could have been easier politically.
“There’s option number one, which a whole bunch of people took, which is turn tail and run and don’t come to the convention,” Mr. Cruz said. “There are a bunch of people that did that. I ain’t one of ‘em.”
He said the politically easy option is to “stand up and pledge your allegiance to whoever the party nominee might be, no matter what.”
“If you’re an elected official, that’s the right political outcome,” Mr. Cruz said.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” he told an attendee. “What I said last night is what I believe.”
At one point, Mr. Cruz told the audience he was happy to answer questions but he wasn’t going to engage in a “screaming match.”
“I actually believe in treating people with civility and respect,” he said.
“Let me ask folks here … how many of y’all would like to see more leaders stand up to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell?” Mr. Cruz asked, referring to the past House speaker and current Senate majority leader.
“Anytime you stand up to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, leadership screams ‘support the team, you’re a Republican, we’re our leadership, sit down, shut up — just support the team,’ ” he said.
“And damn it, if that’s the price, I ain’t gonna do it. I’m gonna honor the commitments I made to the voters, instead,” Mr. Cruz said.