Note that he never says he won’t vote for the bill as is, merely that he doubts there are 51 votes for it. It’s implied that he won’t vote for it as is, but after the big cave last fall, only a fool would bet big on Cruz standing up to Trump. Especially with his seat in Texas up next year.

He and Mrs. Cruz are having dinner with the Trumps tonight at the White House, by the way. All things considered, Cruz giving thumbs down to TrumpCare might be the least awkward part of the conversation.

“The current draft in the House is a draft about which I have significant concerns,” he told reporters on a conference call. “As drafted, I do not believe this bill would pass the United States Senate. But I am encouraged and optimistic that we can resolve these differences.”…

In contrast with Wednesday’s diplomatic tone, Cruz promised as a Senate candidate in 2012 to “throw my body in front of a train to stop anything short of its complete and total repeal.”

“I’m glad that the House of Representatives has introduced their legislation to repeal Obamacare,” he added, in his Wednesday remarks. “Yesterday, President Trump tweeted that this bill was now open for negotiation, and I think that is exactly right. There are vigorous debates that are ongoing [in Congress] about what the contours of this legislation should be.”

“I believe at the end of the day we will get to yes,” he added, just in case it was unclear that the post-election Trump-friendly Cruz 2.0 is a lot more amenable to legislative compromise than the pre-election conservative roadblock Cruz 1.0 was.

He, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul are united (as usual) in criticizing the bill from the right — for the moment. Paul, I think, is enjoying leading the conservative opposition to “ObamaCare Lite” after a dismal presidential campaign and a dispiriting shift among the grassroots right towards Trump’s centrist politics. When asked this morning how it felt to be singled out by Trump in a tweet, Paul replied, “I don’t feel isolated by this. I actually feel emboldened.” I think he’s telling the truth. If there’s any Republican who can afford to vote no on the bill, he can, having just been reelected to a new six-year Senate term in November. He made the obligatory noises in today’s interview about compromise and being “open to negotiation” but he must know that the more Paul-like the House bill becomes, the less of a chance it’ll have to attract the votes of moderates like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Cory Gardner. There may be no way to thread the needle in the Senate, in which case, if the bill really is doomed, Paul might as well be a purist and spearhead the conservative critique of it. And as an added bonus, if the bill does fail and ObamaCare remains in place, his home state of Kentucky might be A-OK with that. David Frum described Paul’s posture yesterday, contra “repeal and replace,” as “denounce and preserve”:

Yet Paul also represents a state that has done well out of the Affordable Care Act. Four hundred and forty thousand Kentuckians have gained coverage under the ACA; Kentucky’s uninsured rate tumbled from 20 percent in 2013 to 7.5 percent in 2015.

Even more strikingly, it is Kentucky’s Appalachian Southeast that has seen the biggest gains from the ACA. And it so happens that southeastern Kentucky voted more staunchly for Paul’s 2016 reelection than did any other section of the state…

[W]hat is workable is a more familiar play: to strike a heroic attitude of principle while in fact supporting as the least-bad option a law that you nominally oppose. Bob Dole famously advised that the safest position for a politician is to “support the bill that failed; oppose the bill that passed.” One doubts that Rand Paul will be the only Republican to recognize the advantages of denounce-and-preserve over repeal-and-replace.

Paul gets to have his cake and eat it too, tanking the effort to uproot Kentucky’s ObamaCare benefits while establishing himself as the new de facto leader of grassroots conservatives, especially with Cruz lying low ahead of his primary in Texas next year. Speaking of which, back to Cruz: What happens if the vote is close in the Senate, with Paul and Lee voting no? Would Cruz join them and risk Trump’s wrath or will he buckle and vote for “ObamaCare Lite”? Cruz being Cruz, he’ll probably over-calculate and decide to hang back and see if his vote really matters or not. If he sees the bill is going down thanks to a coalition of conservative opponents on the right and moderate opponents in the middle, he’ll preserve his ideological cred by voting no since his vote won’t matter. If he sees that the bill is going to pass easily (which is hard to imagine), he’ll also vote no — since, again, his vote won’t matter. The nightmare scenario is if the margin is razor-thin and Cruz’s vote really might be decisive. Would he dare tank the GOP’s bid to replace O-Care by becoming the 51st no vote, knowing that Trump might seize that as an opportunity to call for a primary challenger in his Senate race? That would be cosmic justice for Cruz’s Trump endorsement last October. In fact, if I were Trump, I’d publicly warn any Republican who votes no on the bill that they’re apt to see him show up in their state campaigning for his primary opponent. Paul and Lee have nothing to fear from that. Cruz, though? Bigly.

Two clips here, one of Susan Collins saying (at the very beginning) that she’s also skeptical that the House bill can pass the Senate, although of course she’s coming at it as a purple-stater, not a deep red-stater like Cruz. Collins won’t face the voters again until 2020 and she’s won her last few Senate elections in Maine by landslide margins, so she won’t be easy for Trump and McConnell to move if her opposition to the bill is firm. The other clip is of Sean Spicer being asked today if Trump is planning to apologize to Ted and Heidi Cruz at tonight’s dinner for last year’s infamous retweet about Mrs. Cruz’s looks. Which, by the way, remains part of Trump’s Twitter timeline to this day.