CLEVELAND — In the hours before Ted Cruz delivered the biggest speech of his political life, a key element was in flux: Would he endorse Donald Trump, his former bitter rival in the Republican race for the White House?
Cruz had informed Trump two days earlier he would not, but that wasn't stopping Trump's campaign from making a late play for the Texas senator's support, Cruz's former campaign manager Jeff Roe told reporters Thursday. At the very least, Trump's team wanted Cruz to do more for the newly minted nominee than just congratulate him.
Yet Cruz held firm, delivering a primetime address that offered no support whatsoever for Trump and urged delegates to vote their conscience in November. The speech sparked a furious reaction from Trump supporters — first Wednesday night in the Quicken Loans Arena, and then Thursday morning at a Texas delegation breakfast, where constituents angrily confronted Cruz about his refusal to get behind Trump.
“I understand where they wanted to go. They understood where we were starting from," Roe said of the Trump campaign. "And yeah, I think they were less than pleased that we weren’t going to go with a full endorsement."
Roe laid out the series of events that led to the non-endorsement to reporters after Thursday morning's Texas delegation breakfast, where Cruz doubled down on his lack of support for Trump. A Trump spokesman declined to comment on Roe's remarks.
Cruz officials insist Trump should not have been surprised by what transpired. Three days ago, Cruz informed Trump during a phone conversation that there would be no endorsement during his speech to the convention, Roe said.
But since Cruz's speech, there have been conflicting claims from Trump and his campaign about whether they knew what to expect. In a tweet late Wednesday night, Trump said he saw Cruz's "speech two hours early but let him speak anyway." On Thursday, however, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort seemed to contradict that, telling ABC News the campaign "didn't know [Cruz] wasn't going to endorse Trump."
Communication between the two parties ramped up after Cruz's private meeting with Trump earlier this month in Washington, D.C. It was there that Trump offered Cruz a speaking slot at the convention and Cruz accepted — all without discussing an endorsement.
Since then, Cruz's team and Trump's team stayed in touch, Roe said, talking every few days as Cleveland loomed. They discussed the fight last week on the RNC Rules Committee to unbind delegates, and they talked about making sure Cruz's name was not put into nomination earlier this week, a move that could have caused a different kind of messy scene on the floor.
The back-and-forth between the two camps reached a critical point Wednesday evening, when Cruz submitted a draft of his speech for Trump's review. According to Roe, it happened at about 6:30 p.m. — just over three hours before Cruz was scheduled to take the stage.
Among the Trump officials Roe was in touch with at the time: senior communications adviser Jason Miller, a former top Cruz aide who joined Trump's campaign after Cruz dropped out. Roe said Miller called him shortly before he submitted Cruz's speech, at about 6 p.m., and emphasized that Trump would appreciate an endorsement. Roe's response, he says, was noncommittal: "I hear ya."
Among the final people Cruz spoke to before taking the stage, according to Roe: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the former chairman of Cruz's campaign in Texas and now an enthusiastic Trump supporter. Roe did not say what Cruz and Patrick discussed, and a Patrick spokesman did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Elements of the speech were still under discussion moments before Cruz stepped on stage — ahead of schedule, to boot. "We were in the hallway before we walked out," still discussing Cruz's remarks, Roe said.
Cruz's speech began with promise for Trump supporters: Within the first few minutes, he congratulated Trump on securing the nomination and said he hopes Republican values prevail in November. But as Cruz went on, it became clear he was not going to offer anything close to an endorsement of Trump, touching off an angry reaction from the crowd that ended in Cruz getting booed.
On Thursday, Roe recalled with some amusement the "evolution" of texts he was receiving while Cruz spoke, including from someone from the Republican National Committee.
"As the speech was going on," Roe recalled, "when it started, it was like, 'Wow, this is unbelievable.' 'He's crushing it.' 'Oh my gosh, this isn't good.' 'What's happening now?' 'Make this stop.' 'Oh, no, you really messed up.'"
After the speech, Cruz and his team went to a nearby hotel for a meeting with donors. His team then headed to the Hyatt Hotel, where they have been stationed for the convention, for drinks and appetizers. Cruz, meanwhile, peeled off from the group and went back to his room at the Marriott, where he stayed up perusing coverage of his speech, including on social media.
"He didn’t go to bed," Roe said. "He went to Twitter."
Cruz acknowledged as much in his remarks Thursday morning, recalling how he stumbled on an article with a word cloud showing the most frequently used terms in convention speeches Wednesday night versus other nights. He warned the GOP against making words like "Trump" and "Hillary" the dominant themes of the election, saying the party will only win if "freedom" is front and center.
Cruz had always planned to address the Texas delegation Thursday morning, but it was less clear whether he would take questions from the audience. The breakfast ended up being a dramatic, tense affair as Cruz vigorously defended his speech the night before and sought to placate constituents pressing him — often angrily — over his refusal to back Trump.
The possibility of such fireworks came up when Roe met with Cruz earlier in the morning in his hotel room and then on the elevator ride down to the breakfast. Roe had warned Cruz he could be booed as soon as he was introduced, and Roe said it might not be politically wise to field questions from his home-state delegation.
"I'm just going to tell them my heart," Cruz responded, according to Roe. "I represent these people and they know me, and some are going to be upset, and you know, if they are, I'm sad that they're upset, but I'm going to go tell my heart."