Texas Republicans did something Tuesday they had not done at a Republican National Convention for 40 years. They delivered most of their votes to a loser.
It fell to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, filling in for Gov. Greg Abbott, as chairman of the delegation, to deliver the state’s verdict toward the tail end of the presidential roll call officially electing Donald Trump the party’s nominee.
“For Marco Rubio — three votes,” Patrick said. “For our dear friend, a great conservative, our favorite son who we love, Ted Cruz — 104 votes. And for our new friend, our latest adopted favorite son, for the man who on the night of Nov. 8 is going to get a phone call from a lady named Hillary when she concedes the election to the next president of the United States — Donald Trump — 48 votes.”
The final tally was 1,725 votes for Trump and 475 for Cruz.
Cruz, the loser — to use a favorite Trump term — was, as Patrick described him, Texas’ favorite son, but he was much more than that. He was also Trump’s most formidable rival. There was no shame in Cruz’s game.
“In any other year, Ted is the nominee,” said Patrick, standing alongside the Texas sign denoting the delegation, just before the roll was called. Patrick was all in for Cruz, chairing his Texas campaign, raising money, traveling, even deriding Trump as a candidate ill-prepared to go toe-to-toe, one-on-one on a debate stage with Cruz. But, perhaps more than any other prominent Republican official in Texas, he is all in for Trump. His ebullience in reporting the Texas tally was genuine.
Cruz, who will address the convention in a prime spot Wednesday night, has yet to endorse the man who relentlessly disparaged him as “Lyin’ Ted” and is now, as unlikely as it seemed when he announced his candidacy at Trump Tower 13 months ago, the party’s presidential nominee.
It was Cruz’s commanding, though not overwhelming, victory in the March 1 Texas primary that spared him the ignominy of a premature exit and gave him a second wind that sustained him until his loss in the May 3 Indiana primary that ended his campaign, having banked the delegates, that, state by state, in one of most indelible exercises of American democracy, were reported and redeemed. He had outpaced other Texas presidential candidates who flamed out early — John Connally in 1980, Phil Gramm in 1996, Rick Perry in 2012 and again this time.
Cruz is a young man. If Trump wins and then wins a second term, Cruz would still be 17 years younger than Trump is now.
Trump is that rarity, a Republican who won the party’s nomination the first time out. Usually, like Ronald Reagan, a candidate has to run once or twice before winning, and Cruz can take satisfaction that he is following in his hero’s footsteps, winning Texas on his way to losing the nomination.
Since picking Reagan in 1976, and before Cruz, Texas, the biggest red state, the cornerstone of any Republican Electoral College majority, had been unerring in picking a winner — Reagan in 1980 and 1984, Texan George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992, Bob Dole in 1996, Texan George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.
‘There is a Ted Cruz contingent who just will not accept that Donald Trump is the nominee,” said Carl Tepper, the Lubbock County GOP chairman and an at-large Trump delegate.
Tom Pauken, a former Texas Republican Party chairman and Trump delegate, thinks for the party’s sake, the nation’s sake and his own self-interest, Cruz should endorse Trump.
Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler thinks the state party is quickly healing.
“I think everybody I talk to is coming together and is going to be totally behind our nominee,” Mechler said. “Obama has been destroying our country, in my opinion; if Hillary Clinton is elected she will continue to do that, if not worse.”
Steve Munisteri, Mechler’s predecessor and an at-large Trump delegate, agrees, recalling his experience the last time the Texas delegation was on the losing side.
In 1976, Munisteri, 18 and on his way to begin his freshman year at the University of Texas, was working as part of the Reagan Youth Staff at the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Mo., at which Reagan was attempting to deny renomination to Gerald Ford, who had assumed the presidency upon the resignation of Richard Nixon.
It was the tightest, most bitterly fought convention of modern times, thanks in large part to Reagan’s stunning sweep of all the Texas delegates. Munisteri recalled that Reagan won more popular votes that year but ultimately lost when Ford, using the power of the White House, was able to broker a convention victory.
Bitter, young Munisteri didn’t go to the last night of the convention. He wanted no part of seeing Ford nominated. But Ford called Reagan to the stage, where Reagan delivered some extraordinary extemporaneous remarks. Munisteri missed it, but by the time he started at UT he was working the phone banks in Austin for Ford.
“People get behind the nominee,” Munisteri said. “That’s your team.”
American-Statesman chief political writer Jonathan Tilove is covering his seventh Republican National Convention. He offers his insights on the First Reading blog mornings at mystatesman.com.