MIAMI, Fl. — I woke up Thursday with a confused look on my face. I’m a capital D, Cuban American Democrat, a progressive pragmatist that is allergic to political piety or opportunism, which is why I've always resented the way the GOP thinks it speaks for all Cuban exiles. And yet, here I was, very proud of a Cuban Republican.
Three days of watching the Republican National Convention put me through the ringer. From the Duck Dynasty guy’s ‘aw shucks’ jingoism to Chris Christie’s terrifying mock trial of Hillary Clinton, my nerves were fraying in the perils of mob justice and resentment politics. I quickly went from being entertained to mortified. My grandparents were old-school compassionate conservatives, they deserved better than this.
And then Ted Cruz began took the stage.
My God, the smirk, the self righteousness, the chin — no puedo. Add to that the absurd Green Eggs and Ham filibuster to the fact that I don’t agree with him on any policy points and I’m allergic to the man. So much so, that halfway through his speech I flipped the channel.
I take bad Cuban-American politicians very personally. In my opinion Marco Rubio has done more damage to my reputation as a Cuban American than I ever have and I don’t appreciate being constantly embarrassed by men that I don’t admire. When friends commented that it was impressive that Cuban Americans had two Presidential candidates I would retort, “Have you heard either one of them speak?”
Then it happened.
My sister called out from her room, “They booed Ted Cruz off the stage!”
‘Ooooh!’ I thought. ‘I’ll take my RNC with a side of schadenfreude, gracias!’ I ran to my laptop and googled him, I flipped channels listening through different commentary but all I could gather was that he didn’t endorse Donald Trump.
‘Throw a dart,’ I thought. Most Republican speakers didn’t endorse Trump.. Their speeches were more about assuring the base that Hillary Clinton is responsible for all the world’s problems, than endorsing the d-list reality star. Then I saw the clip.
Ted Cruz inspired the ire of the crowd because he told Republican voters to vote their conscience, to get to the polls in November and vote their conscience. That’s what we all should be doing right? But don't tell that to the GOP, they went ballistic!
Delegates looked like angry red screaming blowfish. The Trump kids glared icily at the stage as ‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’ chants replaced the boos. Cruz smiled and took a long curtain call wave at the crowd before he sauntered off stage. I was feeling this, this odd thing in my heart, and oh my God, I was proud of Ted Cruz!
Immediately party leaders issued non-official statements, that Cruz was setting himself up for 2020, that it was a sneaky ploy to prop himself up. A day later some speculated that it was set up by Trump’s camp, to lend a WWF moment of suspense to the already bizarre week.
But the truth is, there have only been two candidates to stand up to Trump after he became the nominee: John Kasich, who refused to attend the convention, and Cruz, who undercut Donald Trump’s entire narrative as a Republican party leader.
And after Trump's immigrant fear mongering and mostly false and divisive acceptance speech, I was even prouder of Cruz.
Trump’s rise in the GOP hasn’t been meteoric. He's been cunning, not surprising when you consider his dubious business deals. But mostly he’s been the beneficiary of getting away with misinformation. His nomination is more of an ego trip paid for by an angry, scared and bigoted electorate than the result of his leadership or vision.
Enter Ted Cruz — problematic at best and cynically power hungry at worst. Yet he was the only Republican to take that stage and bet his entire political career on appealing to the conscience of the American people. It was a stunning moment. It showed tenacity, courage and character. When asked later why he didn't endorse Trump, Cruz remind people that this was a candidate who had insulted his father (alleging he was somehow involved in the Kennedy assassination!) and his wife.
I am fairly certain I will never vote for Ted Cruz. But whether Trump wins or loses, I will always be proud that the only GOP leader at the Republican National Convention of 2016 who ended up putting his country before his party and told people to vote their "conscience" was in fact, a Cuban.
Carmen Pelaez is a Cuban American, Miami-born filmmaker, writer, playwright and performer.