CLEVELAND - US Senator Ted Cruz refused to endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the party's convention on Wednesday, drawing angry jeers from Trump supporters and shattering the facade of party unity that has been carefully built up in Cleveland this week.
Anti-Trump Republican delegate Ken Cuccinelli told Reuters he escorted Cruz's wife, Heidi, off the floor of the Republican National Convention out of concern for her safety following her husband's speech.
For the third day in a row, what was supposed to be a carefully scripted show of unity was thrown into turmoil by unexpected events that have raised questions about whether the party can unite around Trump to defeat the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in the Nov. 8 election.
Cruz, who came in a distant second to Trump in the race for the Republican nomination, stopped short of endorsing Trump after a bitter and personal campaign and mentioned him only once, drawing boos and repeated chants of "We want Trump."
Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general, said: "When the speech ended, there was an ugly crowd behind us." A witness said one person shouted: "Goldman Sachs" at Heidi Cruz in reference to her employment at the investment bank.
Cruz began his speech saying: "I want to congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination last night."
Later in the speech, he urged: "Please, don't stay home in November. Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution."
Some critics saw the appeal for people to vote their conscience as a vote of no-confidence in Trump. Republican strategist Eric Fehrnstrom, who is not affiliated with any campaign, tweeted: "'Vote your conscience' was the rallying cry of the Never Trump movement. For Cruz to bring that message into #RNC hall was a colossal error."
"It's taken me about 30 minutes to calm down and stop shaking with anger," said Erik Layton, an alternate delegate from California who had shouted: "Go home" at Cruz after his speech. "I just don't know why Cruz did this. It baffles my mind."
Trump, 70, a businessman and former reality TV star who has never been elected to public office, made his entrance to the convention hall near the end of Cruz's speech, applauding Cruz's remarks but, by his appearance, drawing attention away from his former rival.
In a tweet after the convention adjourned for the night, Trump wrote that Cruz broke a promise they both had made to endorse the party's White House choice.
"Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn't honor the pledge! I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!" Trump wrote.