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CLEVELAND — The Republican National Convention careened off the rails here on Wednesday night as Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz says Cambridge Analytica assured him its practices were legal Dem battling Cruz in Texas: ‘I can understand how people think this is crazy’ Overnight Tech: Facebook faces crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Lawmakers demand answers | What to watch for next | Day one of AT&T's merger trial | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian MORE refused to endorse Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKoch-backed group launches six-figure ad buy against Heitkamp Anti-abortion Dem wins primary fight Lipinski holds slim lead in tough Illinois primary fight MORE from the stage and was met with deafening boos. 

It was an extraordinary scene of disunity, the likes of which has not been seen at a party convention in a generation. 

The chaos on the convention floor, which included angry words of recrimination from prominent Republicans in the immediate aftermath, totally overshadowed Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceJohn Oliver says his parody Pence rabbit book has sold out Charlotte Pence responds to John Oliver's rabbit book spoof: ‘I’m all for it’ No constitutional authority for the feds to confiscate guns without due process MORE’s acceptance of the GOP’s vice presidential nomination. 

It also dealt a shattering blow to hopes on the part of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee that the GOP would unite here after a long and bitter primary season.

Roger Stone, a former adviser and longtime friend of Trump, called Cruz a “dumb son of a bitch” in a convention center interview with The Hill just after the Texan senator’s speech ended. Stone added that Cruz was “a despicable human being” and insisted that “no voter gives a crap about what Ted Cruz does — the only person this hurts is Ted Cruz.” 

In another sign of the dark tone of the night, security guards had to whisk Cruz’s wife out of the Quicken Loans Arena for her own safety.

Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a close Cruz confidant who was sitting with Heidi Cruz as her husband spoke, told reporters he saw Trump supporters threatening her.

"People behind her were getting very ugly and physically approaching her and [Cruz's father] Rafael," he said. "It was not a pretty situation, and the decision was instantly made to not talk to media and get immediately out of the arena."

The key moments of Cruz’s speech, particularly his urging of attendees to “vote your conscience,” will be replayed endlessly on cable news for at least the next 24 hours. So too will the scenes that followed. 

As the speech wound toward its conclusion and delegates realized that Cruz would make no endorsement, Trump loyalists sprang to their feet, shouting their displeasure. Some people on the convention floor yelled “Lyin’ Ted” and “Go home!” while others gesticulated wildly. 

CNN’s Anderson Cooper said on-air that there were also reports “that Ted Cruz went up to one of the donor boxes and was accosted by Trump supporters yelling in his face. One person had to be apparently restrained because they were so angry."

The furor erupted just as the convention seemed to be recovering from the controversy over Melania Trump’s Monday address, which a Trump speechwriter admitted plagiarized from a 2008 Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaSmithsonian moves Michelle Obama portrait to larger space over high demand Trump celebrates St. Patrick's day on Twitter Michelle Obama’s advice to girls: 'Do not be afraid to fail' MORE speech. 

The Melania flap now seems minor by comparison to the Cruz-related uproar.

Within moments of the speech ending, big-name Republicans were excoriating Cruz. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom Trump had seriously considered naming as his running mate, told CNN’s Dana Bash that the Texas senator’s speech was “awful and selfish.” 

New York Congressman Peter King told NBC News that Cruz was “a fraud, he’s a liar, he’s self-centered and disqualified himself from ever being considered for president of the United States.”

But Cruz did have some defenders. Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps Senate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support Senate, Trump clash over Saudi Arabia MORE of Utah, standing with his wife and the Utah delegation, told The Hill, "People will have to speak for themselves. I personally don't do that. I don't boo people at my own political convention because they're not my candidate.” 

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) — another name that had been on Trump’s VP shortlist — sought to calm the shocked crowd with his own speech before Pence appeared. Gingrich insisted that Cruz’s comments had been misunderstood. 

But teleprompters in the arena included a line in Gingrich’s prepared remarks that he had to excise on the fly, since it had clearly been written under the assumption that Cruz would endorse the party nominee. 

Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker reported that the line was, “Senator Ted Cruz in particular made the key point that we need to elect the Trump-Pence Republican ticket.”

Pence emerged into an arena that was still unsettled by the Cruz shocker. He delivered a smooth speech that was punctuated by several moments of winning self-deprecation in its early stages. 

At the conclusion Pence insisted “we have but one choice and that man is ready, this team is ready, our party is ready, and when we elect Donald Trump the 45th president of the United States, together we will make America great again.” 

At that point, Trump himself joined Pence on stage and embraced him, drawing roars of approval from the crowd.

But that set-piece moment could not escape the shock of what had gone before. This was a night that shook the Republican Party badly — and caused undisguised jubilation among Democrats. 

Soon after Cruz finished speaking, a three-word tweet was published on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonKoch-backed group launches six-figure ad buy against Heitkamp Trump keeps up 'low IQ' attack on Maxine Waters GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE’s account.

“Vote your conscience,” it read.

— Jonathan Easley, Ben Kamisar, Vicki Needham, and Scott Wong contributed.