Surprise: Scott Walker endorses Ted Cruz

The endorsement itself isn’t a surprise but the effusiveness of it is. Last week Walker telegraphed he’d be backing Cruz when he said his views aligned with two of the remaining candidates more so than the third, then admitted that Kasich had no path to the nomination. A thousand years ago, back in September when he left the race, he used his farewell speech to call for the field to narrow so that certain not-so-conservative candidates couldn’t take advantage of a split right-wing vote to sneak through to the nomination. Backing Cruz was a no-brainer for him. Trump was sure enough that he was out of the running that he dropped this on Walker last night:

Even so, Walker could have gone the Romney route here and endorsed Cruz tepidly and conditionally, as the lone remaining anti-Trump and nothing more. Instead he came armed with three reasons to support Cruz and made a point of saying that “I wanted to make sure that I was supporting someone, I wasn’t against something.” (He also made a point near the end of testifying to Cruz’s good character, presumably just in case listeners are inclined to believe that Enquirer story.) The most striking thing about this is how Walker lays off Trump at a moment when other Republicans are backing Cruz exclusively as the least bad remaining option with a realistic chance of winning. Maybe that’s because he’s eyeing a third term as governor (there are no term limits in Wisconsin) and knows he can’t afford to anger Trump voters too much, but I think there’s strategy to it too. Cruz’s political identity as Mr Conservative is at risk lately of being overwhelmed by his new identity as Not Trump, and some voters aren’t going to turn out for a guy whose chief credential is that he’s not someone else. Walker’s doing what he can to bring back some shine to the affirmative case for supporting Cruz. And that’s not all: He also said he’ll campaign with Cruz this week. If Cruz pulls it out in Wisconsin next week — and the state is a virtual must-win for him, to give anti-Trumpers hope for the next three months — Walker will be a hero again to conservatives nationally. It’s a smart bet to rebuild his stature among Republicans after his own failed campaign.

Speaking of which, a successful fundraiser like Ted Cruz should be very useful to Walker in retiring his campaign debt, no? Everyone benefits here. Exit question: When does Marco Rubio endorse?