Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) addresses the delegates during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Wednesday. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) made arguably the most consequential convention speech of any non-winner since Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) delivered “The dream will never die” oration in 1980. But unlike Kennedy, Cruz pointedly refused to endorse his opponent. Instead, Cruz congratulated Donald Trump and told the delegates to “vote their conscience up and down the ticket.” For that the delegates booed and menaced Cruz’s wife, who had to be escorted from the floor.

In one fell swoop Cruz reminded his followers of his devotion to principles, incinerated any effort to achieve unity and kept his advantage — if Trump loses — over rivals who crumbled and endorsed Trump. He reminded delegates and the wider GOP audience: “We’re fighting, not for one particular candidate or one campaign, but because each of us wants to be able to tell our kids and grandkids, our own Carolines, that we did our best for their future, and for our country.” In other words, we should not venerate one man. Yes, he’s talking about Trump.

Cruz got the most exuberant greeting of any speaker to date, and then gave an eloquent speech outshining former rivals and the VP nominee. It was an inspirational speech built around the theme of freedom — freedom to choose your school and doctor, keep your earnings, defend your family and practice your religion. In a clever line he jabbed at liberal university speech codes: “Freedom means free speech, not politically correct safe spaces.” In sum, he asserted, “Freedom matters.”

Bracketed by the story of a slain police officer, Michael Smith, Cruz acknowledged public anger with politicians who refuse to listen to voters. But Cruz himself was restrained, not angry and avoided the televangelist cadence that turns off some voters. He also reminded Republicans of their history as the party of Lincoln and of support for civil rights. Perhaps this, too. was a slap at Trump, who manages to offend women, minorities and disabled Americans. In adulation of freedom he smartly made an appeal for inclusion — the only remarks that passed for inclusiveness at this convention: “Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist. Gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience.” His nod to gay Americans was remarkable coming from someone who has used cultural wedge issues more doggedly than any Republican this year.

He also made a clever plea for federalism: “And freedom means recognizing that our Constitution allows states to choose policies that reflect local values. Colorado may decide something different than Texas. New York different than Iowa. Diversity. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. If not, what’s the point of having states to begin with?” It’s an interesting spin on “diversity” for a party sorely lacking in such.

Cruz spent relatively little time bashing Hillary Clinton. Aside from the obligatory jab at her email scandal, he kept to a short list of flubs from the Obama-Clinton foreign policy record. He said:

Theirs is the party that thinks ISIS is a “JV team,” that responds to the death of Americans at Benghazi by asking, “What difference does it make?” That thinks it’s possible to make a deal with Iran, which celebrates as holidays “Death to America Day” and “Death to Israel Day.” My friends, this is madness.

That’s mild stuff for this convention. Cruz demonstrated nerve and courage in taking on the delegates and Trumpkins more broadly. Knowing Trump as he does, Cruz likely knew his actions will induce Trump to abandon niceties and obsess over the snub. Indeed, Trump intentionally stepped on Cruz’s final lines by walking into the arena before Cruz finished.

In contrast to Trump, Cruz gave a restrained version of immigration policy: “We deserve an immigration system that puts America first. And yes, builds a wall to keep us safe. That stops admitting ISIS terrorists as refugees.” (We aren’t doing the latter, but at least he is not advocating a ban on all Muslims.)

Cruz will now be the focus of much of the coverage for the remainder of the convention. He demonstrated that there is an alternative to surrender and that there are principles one cannot sacrifice for the sake of partisanship. Surely some Republicans will follow his lead and refuse to back Trump.

Cruz aimed to present himself as a mature conservative who believes in something more than just party devotion. In that respect, he may get credit not only from strong conservatives but also from those moderates and somewhat-conservative voters who didn’t think highly of him during the primaries. He was everything this convention has not been — mature, thoughtful, generous in spirit. Call it opportunism — this is Cruz, after all — but he is betting the soul of the Republican Party has not been permanently marred by Trumpism.

In sum, Cruz aimed a dagger at Trump’s heart. They’ll be no unity, no capitulation and no cult of authoritarianism from his side of the GOP. It may be seen as the first round in the 2020 campaign, which seems to have started before the end of the 2016 convention.