Ted Cruz’s refusal Wednesday to endorse Donald Trump drove discussion among S.C. delegates at their breakfast Thursday.
The consensus? The move was a misstep by Cruz.
Bob Barnwell, a Richland County alternate whose first pick for the GOP nominee was U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, said Cruz’s speech – in which he called for Republicans to support candidates based on their conscience – was “classless.”
Susan Aiken, a delegate from Anderson, said she thought Cruz’s speech was building up to an endorsement. Then, she could tell Cruz was not going to endorse Trump.
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"I would have handled it differently, and I'm not sure what his motive was," Aiken said, adding the move likely will hurt Cruz if he runs for president again. “It’s fine if you disagree and you want to go another direction, but don't do it at the convention, when you have the opportunity to unify the party.
“On the other hand, he may have made Donald Trump even stronger... because a lot of people were listening, and they may see ... we've got the right candidate,” she added.
State Rep. Garry Smith, a Greenville Republican and Cruz supporter, said he was “disappointed Cruz did not come out more strongly for party unity.”
Not everyone agreed.
“I was completely OK with it. ... He didn’t say anything rude. He didn’t disparage Trump,” Easley delegate Elliott Kelley said of Cruz’s speech.
Kelley, who supported Cruz in the S.C. primary, said the Texan did what he said he would do: support the nominee – not the same as formally endorsing him.
Some at the delegation’s breakfast strongly condemned Cruz.
Aiken delegate JanePage Thompson said politicians are not supposed to burn bridges.
“Ted Cruz didn’t just burn a bridge – he burned a whole city. That guy was worse than Sherman marching through the South.”
Sally Atwater, widow of legendary S.C. GOP operative Lee Atwater, sounded a warning to Cruz if he is considering future presidential runs. “The party survives, and if you disrespect the party, people do remember.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson echoed the delegates’ concerns, addressing the “elephant in the room” during brief remarks to the South Carolinians.
Hutchinson said he was disappointed in Cruz’s speech, saying it came when he “felt like we were coming together as a party.”
Cruz should have endorsed Trump, Hutchinson told The State. “It would have been wise for the party but also for himself, personally.”
Hutchinson also said the “vast majority” of Cruz supporters now back Trump.
“Ted Cruz just left himself out there really alone in saying, ‘I’m not going to join the team.’ ”