US Senator Ted Cruz staunchly defended his decision not to endorse Donald Trump, saying on Friday he was not the Republican presidential candidate's "servile puppy dog" in a damaging rift at the party's convention ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
Cruz, who came in second to Trump in the race for the Republican nomination after a bitter and personal campaign, was booed by delegates at the gathering in Cleveland on Wednesday night when he stopped short of endorsing Trump in a high-profile speech.
The conservative senator from Texas stood his ground today. He refused to say whether he would vote for Trump, who during the primary battles insulted Cruz's wife, Heidi, for her physical appearance and suggested that his father was linked to late President John F. Kennedy's assassin.
"I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father," Cruz told a meeting of the Texas delegation in Cleveland.
Republican candidates had pledged during the primary contests to support the party's eventual nominee.
"That pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi that I'm going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say 'thank you very much for maligning my wife,'" Cruz said. He did say he would not vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
The dispute was the latest misstep at the four-day party meeting, which was meant to show Republicans rallying behind Trump, a New York businessman who has never been elected to public office but who saw off 16 rivals to win the White House nomination.
Trump, well known to Americans as a reality TV star, has upset many in the Republican establishment with his free-wheeling style, frequent insults to rivals and controversial policy proposals such as imposing a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and building a wall along the border with Mexico.
Party leaders had sought a smoothly-run convention that would unify around the unorthodox White House candidate and present him as a strong leader capable of taking on challenges from the security threat of ISIS to wage stagnation in the United States.
But the convention briefly erupted in chaos on Monday when opponents of Trump stormed out of the room and others chanted in a failed attempt to force a vote opposing his candidacy.
Then one of the event's highlights, a speech by Trump's wife on Monday night caused controversy over plagiarism because she used some lines that were similar to passages in an address by first lady Michelle Obama in 2008.
As the last speaker at the gathering, Trump, 70, has a chance today's night to end on a positive note when he makes a prime-time address to formally accept the presidential nomination.
Trump said he would mention many of the issues that won him support from Republican voters during the primary campaign.
"I'm talking about trade, I'm talking about law and order, I'm going to be talking about borders. I'll be talking about many different things. Our country has a lot of problems. We're weak in so many different ways," he told ABC News.
"I think my message is a good message. It got me here," said Trump, who has fired up crowds with promises to create jobs, be tough on national security and ensure that foreign policy keeps American interests firmly at its heart.
But comments by Trump to the New York Times raised fresh questions about his commitment to automatically defend fellow NATO members if they were attacked.
In response to a question about potential Russian aggression towards the Baltic states, Trump told the newspaper in an interview that if Moscow attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations "have fulfilled their obligations to us."
After Trump's comments, the White House said the United States has an "ironclad" commitment to mutual defense among the NATO allies.
Trump and his aides have offered scant policy details so far at the convention. Nor have they been able to put to rest questions about whether they can mount a sophisticated campaign that can take on Clinton's well-oiled operation. He currently trails the former secretary of state in most opinion polls and needs the lift a candidate traditionally gets from the pre-election party convention.
FURY WITH CRUZ
Cruz, known as a ideologue of the conservative Tea Party movement who strongly favors small government, has been a controversial figure in the party himself, upsetting fellow Republicans in Congress by plowing his own furrow.
Pro-Trump delegates were furious with him.
Susan Hutchison, chair of the Washington delegation to the convention, said she confronted Cruz after his speech and called him a "traitor to the party."
"I always heard he didn't have that many friends in Washington D.C. He certainly didn't have that many friends in this room last night," Trump's son Eric told NBC's Today show.
Cruz was still one of the most talked about topics on social media, capturing attention ahead of Trump's big speech.
On Google, "ted cruz speech" was the top trending query about the Republican National Convention and on Twitter, around 56 tweets mentioning his official Twitter handle @tedcruz were posted every minute.
The overall tone of the tweets was more positive than negative, at a ratio of about 2.5 to 1, according to social media analytics firm Zoomph....