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Ted Cruz refused to endorse Trump — will Republicans forgive him?

The rogue Texas senator's speech at the RNC on Wednesday pissed off everyone from billionaire GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson to rank-and-file Republicans.

by Brendan James
Jul 21 2016, 3:23pm

Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

When you emerge as the most ridiculed figure at the Republican National Convention on the same night that a speaker was accused of giving a Nazi salute, it's worth taking stock.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, however, appeared to relish a wave of condemnation after he refused to endorse — or really even hint at endorsing — his onetime rival and now-official GOP nominee Donald Trump in Cleveland on Wednesday.

"Don't stay home in November," Cruz said at the moment an endorsement of Trump was expected. "Stand and speak and vote your conscience." Swaths of the crowd on the floor lost it, and Cruz was eventually booed off the stage. Through it all, he never stopped smiling.

Trump, meanwhile, could not have timed his entrance better, walking into the stadium right as Cruz began to bomb. It sucked even more air out of the room as every TV camera and delegate's head swiveled away from Cruz to see the nominee. Cheers of "Trump, Trump, Trump" nearly drowned out the last lines of the speech.

Here's the fallout for Cruz, in order of seriousness:

-Billionaire GOP mega-donor and ideological puritan Sheldon Adelson barred Cruz from entering his suite at the convention, with one Adelson aide telling CNN: "When he didn't endorse, they were stunned and disappointed."

-Fellow Republicans, from the rank-and-file in the crowd to the fellow convention speakers, aren't hiding their disgust. "He failed the nation," one Virginia delegate told CNN.

-Chris Christie turned to his typical "tough guy" straight talk. "I think it was awful," Christie said. "And quite frankly, I think it was something selfish. And he signed a pledge. And it's his job to keep his word."

Related: Ted Cruz's biggest challenge: To know him is to hate him

-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, the villain looming large throughout the RNC, immediately used Cruz's key line to exploit the GOP's disunity on Twitter, tweeting, "Vote your conscience," with a link to her website.

-Cruz's coup seemed to overshadow the speech by Trump's VP Mike Pence. Walking out of the arena, one delegate reflected on Pence's performance to a woman standing next to him, "Yeah it was a good speech," he said. "It's just that — no one cared about that."

-Trump shrugged off the snub and painted Cruz as a political has-been: "Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn't honor the pledge!" he tweeted. "I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!" Trump tweeted about the incident again on Thursday morning, referencing Cruz's reverence for the Constitution and claiming a victory by Democrats would lead to a Supreme Court that would "destroy us all."

Commentators left and right have pointed out that Cruz, a man who revels in his "rogue" status in the party, is likely hoping this can be his Ronald-Reagan-in-1976 moment. That year, the insurgent California governor and future president refused to flat-out endorse his opponent, incumbent GOP President Gerald Ford, after running a particular brutal race against him.

"We must go forth from here united," was the closest Reagan got, which is perhaps a bit more encouraging than Cruz stressing "conscience" and voting "up and down the ticket."

Also, Reagan didn't get booed.

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