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Missouri delegates split over Cruz's decision not to endorse Trump

St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jo Mannies covered the Republican National Convention last week.
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

CLEVELAND – Bev Ehlen, a Missouri GOP delegate from Warren County, has long been a fan of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and had hoped he’d be the party’s nominee for president.

But now that Donald Trump has the nomination, Ehlen is upset that Cruz is opting against an endorsement.

“I was very disappointed’’ by Cruz’s Wednesday night speech, Ehlen said. “I’m probably the biggest Ted Cruz supporter you can find. I was expecting so much more because he’s such an articulate speaker. I was expecting a home run, and I didn’t get it.”

A “home run,’’ she explained, would have been to make clear to TV viewers and those in the convention hall that Trump’s election in the fall is the only option for conservatives.

To Ehlen and many other Missouri delegates — whether officially committed to Cruz or Trump — conservatives face devastation if presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is elected president.

Carol Wessel Boyer, a delegate from Troy, Mo., explained: “As Christians, you have to vote for the Supreme Court and our Constitution.”

That’s the message that Missouri delegates heard underscored at their closing convention breakfast, which featured businessman Andrew Puzder, chief executive of the Hardee's fast-food chain and a Washington University graduate.

“In this election, the presidency is at risk, the House is at risk, the Senate is at risk and the Supreme Court is really at risk,’’ Puzder said.“The risk for the Supreme Court is perhaps highest because that’s a risk that could last 20-30 years.”

Puzder warned that if Clinton gets to fill a possible two to four seats on the Supreme Court during her term, the court’s majority would shift definitely to the left.

Although much of Puzder's speech focused on Trump's economic proposals, including his tax-cut plan, the delegates appeared to be moved the most by his Supreme Court argument.

That concern about the future of the U.S. Supreme Court is behind some of the frustration that some pro-Cruz delegates felt when they heard him fail to endorse Trump.

“I still love Ted Cruz, but I wish he would have maybe just went ahead and  said, that means we have only one choice, and that’s to vote for Donald Trump,” Boyer said.

Onder: Cruz's message still strong

State Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, understands the frustration. But Onder — a Cruz delegate — said he believes some critics are ignoring Cruz’s basic message.

“I thought Ted Cruz did a good job last night of articulating the vision our party has for America,’’ Onder said. “Ted Cruz urged all voters to vote their conscience and vote for the person they believe will follow the Constitution.”

Onder then added, “I think Ted could have gone one step further and said, ‘That’s why I want you to vote for Donald Trump’ or ‘I encourage all of you to go to the polls and vote against Hillary Clinton.’ ”

“He didn’t quite make that step,’’ Onder concluded. “I think probably he should have. But overall, I think everything he said in that speech was supportive of our ticket.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.