CLEVELAND—While Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence was the headliner of the third night of the GOP convention, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's refusal to endorse Donald Trump consumed the day-after conversations among the delegates from Maryland—and every other state.
Cruz, Trump's former rival for the nomination, sought to defend his snub at a Texas delegation breakfast Thursday, but seemed unable to stem the backlash and disappointment among Republicans at a time when the party is traditionally focused on uniting behind its candidate.
"It demonstrates what we already knew about Ted Cruz," said Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh. "He is self-centered and a self-promoting politician who is already scheming to set himself up for the next election by torpedoing Donald Trump."
Cruz's speech emphasized the need for a divided America to "return to freedom" and unify behind a leader. And while he openly denounced presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he did not encourage voters to cast their ballots for Trump, but instead to "vote your conscience."
"He could've picked a better arena to have a tantrum or a meltdown than the middle of the convention," said Shannon Wright, a Maryland delegate from Baltimore. "That's not the time to work out your demons."
Some Marylanders said the speech was the best of Cruz's career—that is, until the very end.
"Like, 98 percent of the speech was fantastic," said Maryland State Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore County. "It was wrong that he did not just come out and say 'Vote Donald Trump.' It's only three words."
Other members of the Maryland delegation said Cruz placed unity—a key objective for Republicans during the convention—on the back burner.
"We need to come out of this convention united," said at-large delegate and Trump supporter Dwight Patel of Bethesda. "And basically, he just threw his entire party under the bus."
On Twitter, Patel wrote: "Was ashamed I ever supported Ted Cruz for Pres."
But some delegates said Cruz's defiant move has resulted in exactly that—a unity among party members in supporting the nominee.
"It's that crucial time when you say, 'We fought the good fight, we gave it our all and we didn't win,'" said Citizens United President and Maryland National Republican Committeeman David Bossie, of Montgomery County, who is chairing the state delegation. "And the American people have spoken, and now we must all band together to defeat the evil one, Hillary Clinton."
But rather than pro-Trump sentiments, anti-Clinton rhetoric has dominated the convention.
In the speeches delivered on Tuesday night, themed "Make America Work Again," the words "Hillary" and "Clinton" were the two most often used, while "Donald" was fourth, "Trump" was fifth, and "work" was tied for 10th, according to a FiveThirtyEight.com analysis.
During his speech, Cruz aligned with other Republicans in denouncing President Barack Obama, "a man who does everything backwards" and criticizing Hillary Clinton's decisions in the Benghazi scandal and the Iran nuclear deal as "madness."
But it is the next step—communicating Trump's vision and plans for office—that needs to be emphasized in order to build a successful campaign, Maryland delegates said.
"(Most) of the folk here are all in agreement with 'not Hillary,' (and) we need to take that negative and leave that where it is and build on 'why Trump,'" Wright said. "If we're going to be talking about uniting now, let's talk about that. Let's not dig out of the garbage anymore."