In a primetime address to the Republican National Convention Wednesday, Ted Cruz compared GOP efforts to restrict immigration to the civil rights movement’s fight against Jim Crow laws. But the Texas senator was loudly booed by Donald Trump supporters in the convention hall when it became clear that he was not going to endorse the man who beat him for the Republican presidential nomination. Instead, Cruz encouraged his audience to “vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”
“We deserve leaders who stand for principle, unite us all behind shared values, cast aside anger for love,” Cruz said, in what many considered the first campaign speech of his likely 2020 presidential campaign. “That is the standard we should expect, from everybody.”
Rather than directly back Trump—who mocked his wife Heidi’s looks during the primary campaign and once suggested Cruz’s dad was complicit in the Kennedy assassination—Cruz used his prime-time slot to outline his vision of freedom.
“Freedom means free speech, not politically correct safe spaces,” he said, taking a shot at progressive college campus activists. He rattled off a series of other bullet points—religious freedom, the right to bear arms, school vouchers, and repealing Obamacare. Each of those freedoms are typical conservative talking points that the party’s nominee rarely mentions. Although Cruz’s speech focused less on social conservative issues than it might have in years past, he included a call for Washington to stay out of defining issues like marriage.
But Cruz made sure to endorse parts of Trump’s platform as well. He cited the success of the United Kingdom’s recent Brexit vote as indicative of a growing populist wave. “We deserve an immigration system that puts America first and, yes, builds a wall to keep us safe, that stops admitting ISIS terrorists as refugees,” Cruz said. “We deserve trade policies that put the interests of American farmers and manufacturing jobs over the global interests funding the lobbyists.” Cruz had never previously campaigned as an economic protectionist.
Even as he adopted aspects of the current nominee’s most controversial proposals, Cruz was careful to couch his political fight in the context of historical struggles. “Together we passed the Civil Rights Act, and together we fought to eliminate Jim Crow laws,” he said. “Those were fights for freedom, and so is this.”