CLEVELAND — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence accepted the Republican nomination for vice president Wednesday night, promising to help presidential nominee Donald Trump bring “common sense” leadership to Washington and defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“The American people are tired of being told this is as good as it gets,” Pence said. “It’s not the best we can do, it’s the best they can do,” he said of Democrats.
But Republican efforts to project a unified front were shaken earlier when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who ran an unsuccessful primary campaign for the presidential nomination, stopped short of endorsing Trump in his speech to the convention.
Cruz congratulated Trump for winning the nomination at the top of his address to the GOP national convention, but he did not mention the real estate mogul again in nearly 30 minutes of remarks. Instead, Cruz urged the party faithful not to sit out the election and to vote “up and down the ballot” for “candidates you trust.”
“If you love our country and love your children . . . stand and speak and vote your conscience,” Cruz told the crowd.
The New York delegation, upon realizing Cruz would not be issuing an endorsement to his onetime primary rival, started booing and urging him to keep his pledge. Others in the crowd jeered and shouted, “Endorse Trump!”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) afterward said he wasn’t surprised by Cruz’s actions. “Tonight, America saw the real Ted Cruz. He’s a liar, he’s a fraud and he should never have even been considered for president by the Republican Party,” King said.
Trump later tweeted, “Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn’t honor the pledge! I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!”
In his speech, Pence sought to persuade recalcitrant Republicans and independent voters that there is another side to the bombastic presidential candidate who nearly swept a brutal primary season. Trump will accept the party’s nomination for president Thursday night.
“We will win the hearts and minds of the American people with an agenda for a stronger and more prosperous America,” Pence said.
“I believe we have come to another rendezvous with history, and I have faith,” he said. “If you want a president who will upend the status quo in Washington, D.C. . . . we have but one choice and that man is ready, this team is ready . . . we will make America great again.”
Pence argued that Trump would govern from a position of “strength.”
Pence said, “History teaches us that weakness arouses evil . . . we cannot have four more years apologizing to our enemies and abandoning our friends.”
He added, “America needs to be strong for the world to be safe and on the world stage; Donald Trump will lead from strength.”
Pence promised to bring “common-sense, no-nonsense leadership” to Washington.
He said Trump is a “doer in a room full of talkers.”
The crowd interrupted the acceptance speech with chants of “USA! USA! USA!”
Republicans are counting heavily on Pence to project an image of competence and thoughtfulness to broaden the appeal of Trump’s ticket and create a high point in a rocky national convention.
“People will be reassured,” said King, who has known Pence for 15 years, since they served together in the House. “He’s not a fire-and-brimstone guy. I don’t want this to be taken the wrong way, but he is the opposite of Donald Trump in how he approaches issues.”
Pence will have to walk a fine line, given the experiences of past vice presidential nominees, said Meena Bose, director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American presidency at Hofstra University.
Bose noted that while Republicans are praising Pence for adding gravitas to the ticket, vice presidents who overshadow their running mates — such as Republican Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain’s pick in 2008 — have ended up hurting the ticket.
“I think they see an opportunity for more solid or deeper party experience and support,” Bose said of Pence’s nomination. “That and a rapport with presidential candidate are key factors.”
Pence, 57, also is tasked with helping Trump win critical battleground states in the Midwest where presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is strong.
Pence checks an important box for Trump as he tries to attract votes beyond Trump’s fervent base, which experts say isn’t large enough to carry Trump to victory over Clinton.
Speakers praised Pence in speeches Wednesday night.
“This man is a Reagan conservative through and through, pro-growth, pro-life and pro-defense,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin led the RNC crowd with a chant for Pence and Trump: “America deserves better!”
“Liberal Washington insiders created our problems. Hillary Clinton is the ultimate insider . . . if she was any more inside, she’d be in prison,” Walker said to cheers.
“America deserves better than Hillary Clinton!” he said.
Pence brings government experience to the ticket headed by Trump, who has none, Bose said.
Pence, a tea party supporter, served in Congress from 2001 to 2013, rising to GOP conference leader. He was elected governor in 2013 and has held influential posts in the National Governors Association.
Pence gained national attention when he signed, and then backed off, a bill that supporters of gay and transgender rights said would have allowed businesses to refuse to serve the LGBT community. He also signed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws, according to the Indianapolis Star.
“Pence has a definite value,” said professor Mac McCorkle of Duke University and a longtime Democratic consultant in North Carolina.
Trump “is patching up holes in the vote with Pence. So it’s a positive. It’s less likely the boat will sink now,” McCorkle said.
But Brooks D. Simpson, a political scientist at Arizona State University, said “placing Pence on the ticket will reassure party regulars, but does little to expand Trump’s appeal. If anything, some of his statements on social issues will intensify opposition to the Republican ticket, especially among women.”
With Emily Ngo and Laura Figueroa
RNC on Friday
Highlights of Friday’s schedule at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Prime-time speakers begin at 7 p.m.
Speakers include Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump.