Trump-Cruz rift roils Republicans on day meant to unite party and rally Americans

CLEVELAND, July 21 (Reuters) - A defiant Ted Cruz said on Thursday he refused to be Donald Trump's "servile puppy dog," further exposing Republican rifts just as Trump seeks to unite the party and rally Americans behind his unconventional White H...

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump applauds his running-mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, on stage at the conclusion of Pence's speech during the third night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

CLEVELAND, July 21 (Reuters) - A defiant Ted Cruz said on Thursday he refused to be Donald Trump's "servile puppy dog," further exposing Republican rifts just as Trump seeks to unite the party and rally Americans behind his unconventional White House bid.

Cruz, the U.S. senator who came in second to Trump in the race for the Republican nomination after a bitter campaign, was booed by delegates at the Cleveland convention on Wednesday night when he refused to endorse Trump in a high-profile speech.

The conservative senator from Texas stood his ground on Thursday, the fourth and last day of a raucous convention. The party had made the theme for the day "Make America One Again."

As the last speaker at the gathering, Trump, 70, hopes to end on a positive note when he makes a prime-time address to formally accept the presidential nomination and launch the official start of his campaign against the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Cruz, 45, refused to say whether he would vote for Trump, who on the campaign trail had insulted the senator's wife Heidi for her physical appearance and suggested that Cruz's father was linked to late President John F. Kennedy's assassin.


"I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father," Cruz told a meeting of the Texas delegation in Cleveland.

The dispute was the latest misstep at a party gathering meant to be a show of solidarity for Trump, a New York businessman who has never been elected to public office but who saw off 16 rivals to win the nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Trump aides put a positive face on the dispute and said the booing incident proved the party was in fact lined up squarely behind Trump, a real estate developer previously best known to Americans as a reality TV show host.

"Other than a small group of people who have suffered massive and embarrassing losses, the party is VERY united. Great love in the arena!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump said his speech would deal with such issues as trade, law and order, and border security.

"I think my message is a good message. It got me here," he told ABC News. Trump has fired up crowds with promises to create jobs, be tough on national security and ensure that foreign policy keeps American interests firmly at its heart.

Many in the Republican establishment have been upset with his free-wheeling style, frequent insults to rivals and controversial policy proposals such as imposing a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and building a wall along the border with Mexico.




Republican candidates had pledged during the primary contests to support the party's eventual nominee. Trump accused Cruz of breaking his promise.

"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,'" Cruz said. He did say he would not vote for Clinton.

The convention has been plagued by lapses from Day One.

Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena briefly erupted in chaos on Monday when opponents of Trump stormed out of the room and others chanted in a failed attempt to force a vote opposing his candidacy.

Then one of the event's highlights, a speech by Trump's wife on Monday night, caused controversy over plagiarism because she used some lines that were similar to passages in an address by first lady Michelle Obama in 2008.

Comments by Trump to the New York Times raised fresh questions about his commitment to automatically defend fellow NATO members if they were attacked.

In response to a question about potential Russian aggression towards the Baltic states, Trump told the newspaper in an interview that if Moscow attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations "have fulfilled their obligations to us."


After Trump's remarks, the White House said the United States has an "ironclad" commitment to mutual defense among the NATO allies.

Trump and his aides have offered scant policy details at the convention. Nor have they been able to put to rest questions about whether they can mount a sophisticated campaign to take on Clinton's well-oiled operation. He currently trails the former secretary of state in most opinion polls and needs the lift a candidate traditionally gets from the party convention.



As the convention headed toward what is meant to be its big closing event, the evening Trump speech, some in the party were depressed about the convention and the rifts exposed by his candidacy.

"Are we better off if we win, or if we lose," said Republican strategist Vin Weber, a former adviser to leading Republicans Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Weber said he had spent a troubling week in Cleveland processing the "wreck" that the party had become in meetings with operatives, donors and lobbyists.

"This week we're having some real anguished discussions."

Annie Dickerson, an adviser to Republican megadonor Paul Singer and a delegate from New York, said, "I've been at these conventions since 1980. I've never seen it this disunited."


Cruz, known as an ideologue of the conservative Tea Party movement who strongly favors small government, has been a controversial figure himself, upsetting fellow Republicans in Congress by plowing his own furrow.

Pro-Trump delegates were furious about his speech.

Susan Hutchison, chair of the Washington delegation to the convention, said she confronted Cruz after his address and called him a "traitor to the party."

"I always heard he didn't have that many friends in Washington D.C. He certainly didn't have that many friends in this room last night," Trump's son Eric told NBC's Today show.


By Amy Tennery and Ginger Gibson


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