CLEVELAND — At the 2016 Republican National Convention, some seem to already be thinking about 2020.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is set to speak Wednesday night at the convention, but he agreed to do so without promising to endorse the party’s nominee, Donald Trump.
And based on what Cruz said during a thank-you event for volunteers from his 2016 campaign, it doesn’t appear that we can expect a full-on endorsement of Trump when he takes the stage.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen but what I do know, what remains unshakable is my faith in the men and women here,” Cruz said during the event at a restaurant in Cleveland. “What I do know is that every one of us has an obligation to follow our conscience, to speak the truth and truth is unchanging. To defend liberty.”
Cruz referenced calls for the party to unify behind Trump as the nominee, but he emphasised that people should focus rather on unifying around party principles.
“There’s a lot of talk about unity,” Cruz said. “I want to see unity, and the way to see unity is for us to unite behind shared principles, for us to unite in defence of government. And for us to empower the grassroots.”
In a fiery portion of the speech, the Texas senator went on to call for leaders who fight for the people.
“That’s the frustration with politicians in both parties that don’t listen to us, that don’t do what they promise, that don’t fight for the people,” he said. “We need leaders who fight for the working men and women in this country.”
Cruz dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination after it became clear during the primary season that he would not win. He finished in second-place in the delegate count, and is a likely contender for the Republican nomination in 2020 if Trump fails to win the White House.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” Cruz said in his speech. “But I do know that from the very first days of this nation, God has blessed the United States of America and I am convinced God is not done with this country. And if we are faithful, if we speak the truth, if we defend liberty, if we defend the Constitution, if we empower the people, then I promise you there are brighter days ahead for the United States of America.”
Cruz referenced Trump without speaking the nominee’s name, saying he couldn’t speak to volunteers after he dropped out of the race.
“I will tell you guys, many of you were in Indiana the very last day of the campaign,” he said. “[B]ut I will confess to you guys, one of the things that I’m sorriest about, one of the things that I most regret is after suspending the campaign. There were a group of volunteers who had travelled the country. … And I am to this day upset with myself that I could not stay and hug each one of you.”
The conservative firebrand said he was too worried he’d choke up.
“I’ll just confess, I didn’t have the strength to do that and not break down,” he said. “And we had 50 TV cameras there, and I’ll tell you, I wasn’t going to let those SOBs turn Lyin’ Ted into Cryin’ Ted. So I lasted through about two people and then I had to go backstage.”
“Lyin’ Ted” is the nickname Trump assigned to Cruz during the primaries.
Former Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe said that the senator is focused on maintaining a Republican majority in the Senate in 2016 and winning his reelection campaign in 2018, but acknowledged that 2020 could be a possibility.
When asked whether Cruz’s speech was setting the stage for a potential run in 2020, Roe demurred.
“I think the crowd was probably there more than he was,” Roe told Business Insider after the event. “One thing he’s very cognisant of is not looking past 2018. First of all, 2016, you know, keeping the majority. And then 2018 in his re-elect.”
Roe noted that Cruz did not prewrite his speech.
“I had not heard that speech, he never did that before,” Roe said. “That wasn’t written. He just gave it. That wasn’t a written speech.”
Bob Onder, Missouri state senator at the event, said he thinks Cruz supporters will get behind Trump this election cycle. But there still might be an opening for Cruz in four years.
“We’ll all get behind the Republican nominee, but [Cruz] is the real deal,” Onder said. “We really love him and [his wife] Heidi and all they have done to serve our country and, again, we’re sad he wasn’t the nominee, but we’ll now work to get Donald Trump in the Oval Office.”
He continued: “If Trump doesn’t make it in 2016, absolutely, Ted’s my guy in 2020.”
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