CLEVELAND — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was heavily booed for failing to endorse GOP nominee Donald Trump in his highly anticipated prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention last night — a perceived snub that shows a bitter division remains in the party.

The failed GOP candidate was delivering a rousing, well-received address on Republican values and freedom — then drew the crowd’s ire by telling people to “vote your conscience.”

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“Please don’t stay home in November. If you love our country and love our children as much as I know that you do, stand and speak and vote your conscience,” Cruz said at the end of his speech — at the very moment when many expected him to deliver his unifying support to Trump.

“Vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and be faithful to the Constitution,” Cruz said.

As it became obvious Cruz wasn’t going to endorse Trump, the crowd began to boo and New York delegates heckled him.

“I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation,” said Cruz, though the rejection spread far throughout the arena.

Cruz said the words “free” or “freedom” 24 times during his speech, but “Donald Trump” just once — when he congratulated him on winning the nomination the night before.

Just as Cruz was walking off stage, Trump walked into the VIP area of the arena, stealing Cruz’s final seconds in the spotlight.

Trump got a belittling dig in on Twitter later: “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!”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich veered from his Teleprompter cues to insist Cruz had in fact — indirectly — endorsed Trump.

“Ted Cruz said you can vote your conscience, for anyone who will uphold the Constitution,” said Gingirich. “In this election there is only one candidate who will uphold the Constitution. So to paraphrase Ted Cruz, if you want to protect the Constitution of the United States, the only possible candidate is the Trump-Pence Republican ticket.”

The Texas U.S. senator’s glaring omission came even as some of his supporters were falling in line with Trump, saying the choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as running mate could go “a long way” to uniting the fractured party.

“I’m real excited about Mike Pence,” said Illinois delegate Chapin Rose. “I’m a Ted Cruz delegate, but I was really glad to see that Donald Trump was trying to unify the party by reaching out and finding someone from the conservative wing of the party.”

In a shot at Cruz earlier, radio host Laura Ingraham called on failed candidates to honor their agreement to support the ultimate GOP nominee.

“He has pledged to work tirelessly to get our country back on track,” Ingraham said of Trump. “We should all — even all you boys with wounded feelings and bruised egos — pledge to support Donald Trump now.”

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(c)2016 the Boston Herald

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