NC GOP chairman to Cruz delegates: Find your own way home

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the third day of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Wednesday, July 20, 2016.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the third day of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. TNS

When North Carolina Republican Chairman Robin Hayes asked fellow delegate Ted Hicks on Thursday what he thought of the convention speech by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Hicks was candid.

“I thought it was a fine speech,” said Hicks, who’d flown to Cleveland aboard Hayes’ private Pilatus plane.

But he was startled by Hayes’ reply.

“I think you need to ride the bus home,” Hayes told Hicks and fellow Cruz supporter Rod Chaney.

So the two Triangle-area Republicans, who’d expected to fly back with Hayes, scrambled to find a ride with a delegate who happened to be driving home Thursday.

The episode underscores the fact that after four days of drama – and one memorable speech – unity remains elusive for North Carolina Republicans.

They’d come to the GOP convention hoping to find it after a contentious primary and the bruising ouster of their party chairman. Many hoped they could unite behind their presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

But Wednesday’s speech by Cruz, who pointedly refused to endorse Trump and asked delegates to “vote your conscience,” led to a chorus of boos in the convention hall and different reactions in the delegation.

“Overwhelmingly, people (in the delegation) are upset with Cruz, even Cruz supporters,” said delegate Matthew Ridenhour, a Mecklenburg County commissioner. “It was very self-serving. I respect those who lose gracefully.”

Hayes called it “one of the most selfish things politically I have ever seen.”

Rion Choate, a Charlotte investment adviser, said the speech “ignited the Trump people.”

“(Cruz) showed a lack of class and a lack of taste,” said Choate, a Trump supporter.

Ivey Burgess, a junior at Meredith College in Raleigh who says she supported Trump in the primary, thought the Cruz speech was rude.

“He went back on a promise he made. I think it hurt him definitely with the Republicans,” she said, adding that she wasn’t surprised by the response.

“People behind me (in the arena) were dropping cuss words left and right. They were very mad about it,” she said.

After speaking to N.C. delegates Thursday, Trump’s son Eric said he thought the speech – and the loud reaction – showed party unity.

“When you have 22,000 people in there cheering the way they were yesterday, and they were booing somebody off the stage who wasn’t 100 percent in lockstep with that message, I think that is achieving party unity,” the younger Trump told reporters. “It showed there’s tremendous unity.”

Some Cruz supporters said Republicans are united on one thing: beating Democrat Hillary Clinton. Duane Cutlip, a GOP activist from Wake County, chose not to see Cruz’s speech as a slap at Trump.

“If you’re in a room of Republicans with a Republican nominee, what does ‘vote your conscience’ mean to you?” he said. “I don’t think ‘vote your conscience’ means ‘vote for Hillary.’ 

There have been other fissures. Delegate Bob Orr, a former N.C. Supreme Court Justice, left town earlier after telling a reporter Trump is “a danger to the country.”

Jeff Lominac, a Catawba County delegate who worked for Cruz in the primaries, said some Cruz delegates have felt ostracized this week. “We’re like the red-headed stepchild,” he said.

He was one of several North Carolina delegates among more than 1,000 Cruz supporters who rallied with the senator at a riverfront restaurant Wednesday afternoon. When they saw Trump’s plane fly over, they erupted in a chorus of boos.

After their candidate narrowly lost the North Carolina primary, Cruz supporters organized the election of many of his backers to delegate slots.

“There’s no movement toward the conservatives,” said delegate Hugh Rillie of Cary. It’s more strong-arm tactics. It’s not an olive branch, more of a club.”

As he rode through Ohio in the back of a friend’s car, Hicks criticized Hayes’ reaction to his remarks.

“You do not build unity by castigating those you wish to unify with,” he said. “You cannot support somebody just because they’re Republicans. I stand for principles. It’s principles over party. …

“So many people have embraced that Donald Trump says what he thinks. Yet when I’m asked what I think, I’m castigated for that.”

Hayes said he was justified.

“It’s when you do somebody a favor and they turn around and support something that was unacceptable, actions have consequences,” he said. “They said they didn’t see anything wrong with what Ted Cruz did in his speech. … I didn’t think it was appropriate.”

Asked if he didn’t leave the two delegates in a lurch as far as their travel plans, Hayes said he didn’t.

“On the contrary,” he said. “I did them a favor to bring them up here. They embarrassed our delegation and our party so I asked them to get themselves home. … Other views are certainly welcome, but … it’s my right to decide who flies home with me.”

Colin Campbell of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

Related stories from Charlotte Observer