“Nooooo!” shouts Cruz half-heartedly as he lounges in the briar patch.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t feel he can appeal to people across the board,” [Orrin] Hatch said. “For us to win, we have to appeal the moderates and independents. We can’t just act like that only one point of view is the only way to go. That’s where Ted is going to have some trouble.”…

“An awful lot of us really didn’t like to be targeted as corrupt, establishment bought by the lobby establishment,” [Dan] Coats added. “It sure looks like someone was using it as a way to gain notoriety as the only true conservative in Washington.”…

“I think people are concerned,” [John] Cornyn told CNN. “Because obviously the top of the ticket will have a big bearing on whether we’ll hold a majority of the Senate. We don’t need any headwinds from the top of the ticket. We need some tailwinds.”…

“There’s no doubt he has harmed relationships among people,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee. “I would assume that all members would work with the elected president for the good of the country. But there is no doubt there would be strains in the working relationship.”

“I’ve come around a little bit on Trump,” added Hatch, who beat back a tea-party primary challenge in 2012 by running as a true conservative and then promptly voted for the Gang of Eight bill eight months later. It’s not just current senators who are all aboard the Trump train in Iowa either. Check out this nuclear non-endorsement:

Senator Pork also prefers Trump, who’s supposedly going to take a wrecking ball to the Beltway establishment, to Cruz, huh? Go figure.

Given that Cruz’s campaign rests on the idea that the “Washington cartel” hates him, it’s deeply weird to find name-brand members of the “cartel” confirming for the media that they do indeed hate him 10 days before Iowa votes. Instinctively I want to read it as reverse psychology: These are successful politicians, they know how Cruz will exploit this among voters, therefore it must be the case that they secretly favor Cruz over the loose cannon Trump and are doing their part to hand Cruz ammo. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening. Partly I think Gabe Malor is right that this is just people who despise Cruz not being able to restrain themselves from making that plain, even if it hurts their political interests to do so. That’s a pitiful lack of discipline — compare it to Cruz’s strategic restraint in refusing to attack Trump for month after month — but that’s the Occam’s Razor explanation. The other part of it is probably Hatch et al. suspecting that a huge volume of anti-endorsements of Cruz from all directions will push undecideds against him in Iowa, even if they come from the dreaded “establishment.” If you’re trying to decide between Trump and Cruz and you’ve got Sarah Palin and Terry Branstad and half the U.S. Senate telling you that Trump would be better for reasons ranging from “strength” to ethanol to electability to better prospects for bipartisan compromise in Congress, that’s a lot of pressure from different angles pushing you in one direction. Maybe, for Hatch and company, it’s all part of a pie-in-the-sky attempt to rescue Jeb by taking out Cruz early and hoping that Rubio then fades in NH, setting up a “Trump versus Bush” race. Jeb Bush would certainly win that, right?

But don’t miss the forest for the trees here. The fact that “conservative” senators openly prefer a boorish loose cannon with no ideological allegiance to the right like Trump to a guy whose conservatism isn’t in doubt even among the people who hate him proves Cruz’s point of how perverse the GOP leadership’s priorities are. I can understand why a Senate colleague would dislike Cruz and strongly prefer Rubio to him as nominee. But when you’re given a binary choice between someone who reminds you of Tracy Flick but will vote for what you claim to believe and another guy like Trump who’s deeply unpopular among the wider electorate and barely makes a pretense of sharing your principles, the choice should be obvious. How come it isn’t for these people — many of whom, by the way, are moderates on immigration and should in theory be even more appalled by Trump than they are by Cruz?

As for Cruz, he’s doing exactly what you’d expect him to do strategically with all of this. When life hands you establishment lemons, make populist lemonade.

“Donald is publicly bragging about how all the big establishment players are getting behind him, and his criticism of me is he said I went to Washington and actually stood up and fought in Washington and Donald has said, well, the problem he has with me is that I won’t go along to get along in Washington,” the Texas senator said in an interview Wednesday night with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

“He’ll go along to get along,” Cruz said. “I’ve got to tell you Sean, you know the conservatives across this country, I don’t think the problem with Washington is we haven’t had enough Republicans willing to cut deals with the Democrats.”…

“And the establishment seems to have made a determination Donald Trump’s a guy they can make a deal with who will continue the cronyism and corporate welfare and bailouts for big banks,” he added. “And I think that we’re seeing conservatives getting behind us, and we’re seeing the Washington establishment getting behind Donald Trump, interestingly enough.”

That’s basically what Hatch et al. are telling you. When push comes to shove, they can do business with Trump. I think Cruz is making a small mistake in mentioning “deals” in connection with Trump, though, as that’s something the public likes about him. Trump’s going to turn around and say, “Of course I’ll make deals. And Republicans will get the better of Democrats in every one of them. That’s what the art of the deal is all about.” Cruz should be tying this point back to Trump’s ideological vacuousness by claiming that not only is he going to make deals, he’s going to make bad deals necessarily because he brings no core convictions of his own to the table. His definition of what a “good deal” looks like might not match the right’s, especially after clever old hands like McConnell and Schumer are done maneuvering him. He has weak beliefs so he’s going to get rolled. Cruz could cite Trump’s immigration position as an example. Trump was all for amnesty in 2013 once the border was secured; now he’s supposedly for mass deportation, except that once the media started quizzing him on it, suddenly he was open to letting “the good ones” back in as legal immigrants. That’ll happen ad nauseam in a Trump presidency once aides and pressure groups and congressional centrists all start shoving him in the same direction. They’ll fill in his ideological blanks, possibly in some cases without him even realizing it. Here’s Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler making a point along those lines this morning on CNN.

Update: Well then.

https://twitter.com/AlexPappas/status/690283103986814976

Update: Team Burr strongly denies that he said this.