Ted Cruz may have won the Values Voter Summit straw poll three years running, but attendees at this weekend’s social conservative gathering in Washington, D.C., weren’t happy with the Texas senator’s refusal to back Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Debra Wagers, who made the trek to the summit with her husband, Ron, from Commerce, Michigan, said she supported Mr. Cruz in the GOP primary race.
“But I felt like once Donald Trump won the nomination, then Ted should have stepped up to the plate and kept the party together, and as a united group [of] Republicans to beat Hillary,” said Mrs. Wagers, 60. “You don’t want to get mad and act like a little brat and take your marbles home.
“We did actually vote for Ted Cruz in the primary, but we are backing Donald Trump now,” she said.
Mr. Trump received a standing ovation before his speech at the summit on Friday; Mr. Cruz did not appear at all.
It was a remarkable turn of events from last year’s gathering, where Mr. Trump barely seemed to register in the annual presidential straw poll. The billionaire businessman received only 5 percent of the vote at the time, while Mr. Cruz placed first in the straw poll with 35 percent support.
Mr. Trump attempted to win over the religious constituency this time around with a plan to scrap the Johnson Amendment, which bans churches and other tax-exempt organizations form endorsing candidates for political office. Joined by his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who addressed the convention on Saturday afternoon, the duo became the first presidential ticket to address the Values Voter Summit in the gathering’s 11th year.
Ron and Julie Hawley, from Winona, Minnesota, said they weren’t surprised by the crowd’s reception of Mr. Trump.
“I think this crowd was 100 percent behind Donald Trump, because this crowd understands how important this election is going to be,” said Mr. Hawley, 70, who said he backed Mr. Trump’s campaign “from Day One.”
Originally a supporter of Mr. Cruz, Mrs. Hawley, 61, said the senator’s personal feud with Mr. Trump was “very childish.”
“He’s a Christian, and Christians need to forgive,” Mrs. Hawley said. “I know Donald Trump offended him and his wife, but I think your country’s more important than holding onto those grudges.
“I wouldn’t support him anymore,” she added. “That’s childish, and he needs to put our country first.”
Terry Parker from Atlanta said he also was a supporter of Mr. Cruz at this time last year. But he took issue with the senator’s decision to go against his pledge to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee. His refusal to endorse Mr. Trump while giving a prime-time address to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland resulted in a barrage of boos at that event.
“I was very disappointed in Ted Cruz, because he originally pledged that he would support the Republican candidate, and I was a supporter of Cruz, but then he came around and said it’s a matter of principle, and he can’t support Trump,” said Mr. Parker, 76. “But, wait a minute, you promised to support the candidate and now you won’t, because they said something about your family?
“I wouldn’t trust Cruz, because if he can change that quickly that easily, how can I know he won’t change again going down the road?” he said. “I think it will hurt him when he comes up for re-election.”