Before thousands of Texas Republican activists, many wearing “Cruz Crew” stickers, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Saturday gave a rousing speech encouraging conservatives to fight for their principles and never lose hope in America.
But he didn’t call on them to unite for the general election. He didn’t stress the need to defeat likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. And he didn’t mention presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“What our campaign saw is it sparked a movement, a movement across Texas, a movement across America, millions and millions of freedom-loving patriots,” Cruz told delegates on the closing day of the state GOP convention. “We may face growing challenges ahead. But I am convinced that this movement … will be the core of pulling this country back from the abyss.”
When the biennial convention opened Thursday in Dallas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both high-profile supporters of Cruz’s presidential bid, urged conservatives to unite around the Republican Party and defeat Clinton.
But on Saturday, Cruz offered a reminder of how difficult it will be for Trump to line up the conservative evangelical Christians and small-government purists that made up his base, speaking at length about what it means to be a true conservative while avoiding any suggestion that Trump might be one.
Many at the convention speculated that Trump — whose attempts to unify the GOP have hit roadblocks since Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich left the presidential race two weeks ago — would speak Saturday. Instead, the Trump campaign sent U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who in late February became the first senator to endorse the New York real estate developer and reality TV star.
In remarks aimed at convincing the crowd that Trump is a conservative, Session said the candidate’s stand on immigration was clear.
“He’s going to end the illegality. He’s going to build a wall to ensure that. Isn’t that conservative?” Sessions said. “When anybody questions how they’re going to vote in November, ask them if they want to see Obamacare continue. This is not academic this time. That is riding on this election.”
Sessions also praised Cruz, who he called “our almost-presumptive nominee for president of the United States.”
But the message wasn’t universally accepted by Cruz’s die-hard supporters. Lisa Jones, a delegate from Jefferson County, said Saturday that she will write in Cruz’s name or vote for a third-party candidate before casting a ballot for Trump, who she said is immoral and doesn’t stand for the GOP’s small-government conservatism.
“How can the Republican Party have a platform that is totally opposite of its nominee?” said Jones, 53, who owns a small financial services business with her husband. “I held my nose and voted for John McCain. I held my nose and voted for Romney. But at least those two men had something for them ethically and morally. I can’t say that about this guy.”
Paxton, Miller speak
Many of the Republican statewide-elected officials had addressed the convention Thursday, but Attorney General Ken Paxton had a conflicting appointment: oral arguments before the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, where he is fighting three felony indictments related to business deals in 2011 and 2012.
In his convention speech Saturday, Paxton made no reference to his legal situation, instead focusing on his frequent lawsuits against the federal government.
His brief, light-hearted speech also was sprinkled with jokes, including a jab at Austin: “I tell people I don’t mind living in Austin because it’s really not that far from Texas.”
Paxton was followed by Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who is facing a Texas Rangers investigation into whether he used state funds for personal travel.
Every two years, self-styled Texas “nationalists” try to get the state GOP to adopt a platform plank encouraging the Lone Star State to reassert its status as an independent nation. And every time, party leaders say the movement is little more than a handful of fringe activists, castigating the media for giving the issue more attention than it deserves.
But this year, when pro-secession speakers took the microphone during an hourlong floor debate Friday, they received thunderous applause from hundreds of delegates. In a series of voice votes on parliamentary questions related to the resolution, the secessionists sounded as loud as their opponents.
“The government of the United States used to respect states’ rights and the rule of law,” one speaker said during the debate. “Currently, this government violates states’ rights, and the rule of law is somewhere at the bottom of a landfill.”
The anti-secession speakers who received the loudest applause included a Navy veteran and those who spoke about the secessionists making Texas a laughingstock for the rest of the country.
“I didn’t serve the state of Texas. I served this nation,” the veteran said.
In the end, the delegates adopted a clause pushed by the secessionists that criticized federal overreach, but delegates declined to adopt another that called for Texas to declare independence if Washington didn’t change its ways.
In back-to-back convention-opening speeches, the top two officials in state government had plunged headfirst into the debate over which bathrooms transgender people should use, an indication that the Legislature next year might follow North Carolina’s lead in requiring bathroom use to correspond with the sex listed on birth certificates.
Abbott labeled it the “bathroom battle,” and Patrick called the issue a “modern day ‘come and take it'” moment.
The Obama administration raised the stakes Friday by issuing a letter instructing all U.S. school districts to let transgender students use the restrooms of their choice — a move Patrick predicted would backfire, propelling Trump to the White House. (Trump, however, initially said that transgender people should be able to use the bathroom of their choice.)
“I believe it is the biggest issue facing families and schools in America since prayer was taken out of public school,” Patrick said. “(President Obama) has set a policy in place that will divide the country not along political lines but along family values and school districts.”
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