Insider

Key moments where Ted Cruz tried to steal the 2016 nomination and spotlight away from Donald Trump

Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz laughs off some of the most uncomfortable moments he faced when at the mercy of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign cycle. ...
Sen. Ted Cruz surveys the sea of delegates surrounding him all sides as he addressed the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Sen. Ted Cruz spoke on the third day of the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.

  • Ted Cruz and Donald Trump haven't always been as chummy as they are now.
  • A bungled handshake during the 2016 campaigns marred Cruz's initial attempt to subvert Trump.
  • Trump later worked up the crowd at the Republican National Convention, generating boos for Cruz.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Ted Cruz's road to ruin in the 2016 GOP presidential race was littered with missteps, including a poorly choreographed self-own and a prime time ambush by then-rival Donald Trump during a key Republican gathering.

Cruz relived the jarring experiences as part of Insider's exhaustive oral history of Trump's takeover of the Republican party, breaking down the most iconic events during a series of interviews on Capitol Hill.

The Republican senator from Texas survived the brutal multi-candidate debates and managed to string together some early primary wins. But by spring 2016 he was scrambling to derail Trump's seemingly unstoppable campaign.

Read more: The definitive oral history of how Trump took over the GOP, as told to us by Cruz, Rubio, and 20 more insiders

His solution: an unprecedented attempt at naming fellow Republican contender Carly Fiorina his vice presidential running mate even though first-timer Trump was running away with the nomination.

Cruz figured he and Fiorina could project a strong, principled, united front.

Unless, of course, they did something crazy like bungle a simple handshake that will live on in the internet as a cringe-worthy gif.

"We freaking practiced it, and they still screwed it up," then-Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe said of the awkward moment Cruz and Fiorina got knotted up in Indianapolis while trying to join hands.

Today Cruz laughs that off, describing the gaffe as something that "makes for an amusing video after the fact."

Cruz's 'vote your conscience' RNC speech

Things got rawer while recounting the time Trump, who'd clinched the GOP nomination, turned Republican National Convention attendees against him on July 20, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

Cruz had prepared a "vote your conscience" speech he said was designed to unite conservatives – even though he hadn't yet endorsed Trump.

"What I said in the speech is vote for candidates who you trust to defend freedom and to defend the Constitution," Cruz told Insider. "And that is very much what I hoped Donald Trump would do. At the time I didn't know if he would or not. There were reasons to have concerns. I did have concern."

Rick Gates, Trump's then-deputy campaign manager, told Insider Cruz was given the greenlight to say his piece. But then the man who'd formally accept the GOP nomination the next night decided to steal the spotlight from his rival.

"We have Trump in a holding room, and he's watching the proceedings on TV," Gates said. "He asked me where the rest of the family is. We had a family box, which we called the VIP box, in the corner of the convention center, looking directly onto the stage. Trump said: 'We'll check it out. Let's go.'"

Trump ventured out into a corner of the arena to loud cheers of support, surprising Cruz. "I didn't know it was coming," the Texas senator said. "I had no idea. It didn't occur to me that that would be the campaign's reaction. Given that, for any nominee, the objective typically is to unify the party and win in November."

Amanda Carpenter, a former Cruz aide who had left his campaign by the RNC, told Insider she was uncomfortable watching the sequence of events. "I just remember how loud the boos were," she said. "And how I was worried for Heidi, watching her just kind of whisked out."

For his part, Cruz five years later still defends his remarks.

"If you look at what I said in the speech, the words were virtually identical to what Ted Kennedy said about Jimmy Carter and to what Ronald Reagan said about Gerald Ford," he said. "Neither one of them, at their respective conventions, endorsed the nominee. And the reason I know it was identical is I had both of those speeches in front of me when I was writing it and very deliberately used the same language."

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