The Republican Party found itself in turmoil following Sen. Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse Donald Trump and instead telling voters to vote their conscience, a move that longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie says amounted to a political suicide on national television.
There had been reports ahead of the Cruz speech that the GOP presidential runner-up would not publicly support Trump, and the Trump campaign approved the speech.
Near the conclusion of the address to the Republican National Convention, Cruz gave delegates hope that he would back the nominee but ultimately did not.
“To those listening. Please don’t stay home in November,” Cruz said.
But he didn’t follow that with the words many delegates expected and wanted.
“If you love our country and love your children as much as you know that I do, stand and speak and vote your conscience. Vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and be faithful to the Constitution,” said Cruz to a growing cascade of boos.
Thursday morning Cruz said he ended his pledge to back Trump after his rival retweeted an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz and repeatedly suggested the senator’s father had ties to the assassin of John F. Kennedy.
Nonetheless, Viguerie told WND and Radio America Cruz’s actions on a national stage were disgraceful.
“It was a serious, serious, huge mistake for him,” he said. “It hurt Ted Cruz. It hurt the conservative movement. It hurt the Republican Party. It hurt America.”
Viguerie said the mood swing in the convention hall told him all he needed to know.
“When Cruz was introduced, he got a thunderous ovation. If they had taken a vote right then, he would have got a majority of the votes for the nomination. When he left the stage after his speech, he widely booed. He didn’t have a lot of support after he left the stage,” said Viguerie, who contends Cruz hurt himself the most through his own tactics.
“It does a great deal more harm to Ted Cruz than it does to Donald Trump,” Viguerie said. “He made a mistake that may be difficult to overcome for the rest of his life.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Richard Viguerie:
So was the better move for Cruz to stay home if he couldn’t bring himself to endorse Trump, or perhaps not mention voting if he wasn’t going to recommend the GOP nominee? Viguerie said neither of those would have been the right move. He said Cruz had a responsibility to suck it up and back Trump for the good of the nation.
“He has to be a bigger man than to hold these grudges. We’re talking about America,” Viguerie said. “We’re talking about Western civilization. We’re talking about our freedoms here. This is not a city council race. This is not a House race or a Senate or governor’s race. This is for leadership of the free world.”
“Trump wasn’t most of our number one, number two or number three choice. Now we have a binary choice,” Viguerie said. “Either Hillary Clinton’s going to lead America or Donald Trump. It’s not a close call.”
Related columns (story continues below):
“Cruz: Just endorse Trump,” by Joseph Farah
“Ted Cruz and the Trump takeover,” by Pat Buchanan
“Cherish your guns? Trump it is,” by Jeff Knox
He said whether right-leaning voters are disgusted by Trump or not, the facts are clear heading into the general election.
“Those people who do not support Trump are supporting Hillary,” Viguerie said. “They may deny it, but there’s no honest way to say anything other than to say if you are not supporting Trump, you are supporting Hillary Clinton.”
But beyond the choice between Trump versus Clinton, Viguerie said he is increasingly optimistic that a Trump presidency would advance some conservative principles.
“With Mike Pence’s selection, who is a movement conservative, with Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama playing a major role, with people like Art Laffer and Stephen Moore and other important conservatives playing an important role in this campaign, I have every expectation that this will definitely be a right-of-center administration,” Viguerie said.