Here we go: Ted Cruz negotiating for convention speaking slot, says NBC

Why it may be true: It makes all the sense in the world for Cruz to heal the rift with Trump and ingratiate himself to Trump’s base ahead of 2020, especially with Trump widely expected to lose in November. Cruz may still believe that his 2015 strategy was essentially sound, that he’s destined to inherit Trump’s populist voters (especially the southern evangelicals who were expected to back Cruz but ended up supporting Trump). All he had wrong was the timing — turns out the populists weren’t ready to abandon Trump this year, but four years from now when Trump is gone they’ll be ready for Cruz Control. The first step towards the 2020 nomination is getting right with them via a Reagan ’76 speech preaching party unity at the convention.

Why it may be false: Trump and his team lie about lots of things. They’re finalizing the list of convention speakers today and are preparing to release it tomorrow. Teasing Cruz as a possible speaker helps to hype the announcement. And if it’s a lie and Cruz really is holding out on them, leaking to the media, falsely, that he’s agreed to speak may help change his mind. If he persists in refusing, he’ll look not just disloyal but treacherous. And if there’s positive feedback from the right to today’s leak, that may encourage him to change his mind and speak after all. There’s no downside to putting his name in the mix.

I tend to think it’s true, though. I’ve always thought Cruz would cave and back Trump.

Three sources, including one close to the Trump campaign, tell NBC News that Cruz is in negotiations for a speaking spot at the convention. It would be a notable shift for Trump, who previously said his former opponents who haven’t yet endorsed him wouldn’t be invited to speak. In response to those comments from Trump, a Cruz spokeswoman said at the time that the Texas senator wasn’t expecting to receive any time on the schedule.

If Cruz does indeed speak at the convention, it would be a boon for both the senator and the presumptive GOP nominee, who is still struggling to unite the party behind his candidacy with less than two weeks to go until the convention kicks off in Cleveland. Cruz is widely expected to make another White House run in the future, and his appearance at the convention would further elevate him within the party. It could also help convince his former supporters to back Trump, many of whom remain skeptical of the presumptive nominee — and a small cohort of whom are trying to force a contested convention to oust Trump.

Cruz’s spokesman says it’s a lie, although note that NBC claims no fewer than three sources and only one is connected to Trump:

I think Cruz kept his powder dry in May and June because he wanted to gauge how stubborn resistance to Trump on the right would be. There was no sense rallying to the side of a guy who raised next to nothing in May and spent most of the month babbling about the “Mexican” judge in his civil suit. Until recently there seemed like there was at least a small chance that Trump really might be ousted at the convention. But things have changed. Trump’s raising money now; stalwart anti-Trumpers like Cruz ally Scott Walker have come around to backing him; and Trump is lining up Cruz rivals with national ambitions like Joni Ernst, who’ll be speaking in primetime, to make the case for him in Cleveland. If big-name Republican pols had staged a mass boycott of the convention, it’d be easy for Cruz to go along. Now that future primary opponents are seizing the opportunity to be “good soldiers,” though, the calculus is more complicated — he needs to weigh the benefits of staying home and setting himself apart from the rest as a principled Trump rejectionist with the cost of being seen in 2020 as selfish, a sore loser, and a pledge-breaker. Cruz being Cruz, he may be holding out for some sort of very coveted speaking slot befitting his stature as the last candidate standing against Trump and his self-styled status as the leader of movement conservatives. In fact, that might explain why his team doesn’t want to confirm his speaking role. He and Trump may be styling it as a surprise at the convention, just to give Cruz some extra buzz when he appears.

Coincidentally, NRO reports today that Cruz is launching two new nonprofits designed to support his next presidential campaign ahead of 2020. A speaking role at the biggest event on the Republican calendar is a no-brainer in that conext. With so much of the rest of the party leadership on the Trump train, he’ll have enough political cover to be able to spin away his support for Trump even if Trump goes down in flames this fall. Exit question: If he speaks, he has to endorse Trump, right? Even if it’s a perfunctory “I’ll keep my pledge and vote Republican” sort of thing.

Update: One of the people I had in mind along with Ernst as a big-name speaker at the convention was Marco Rubio, who already said that he’d be willing to speak if asked. Change of plans:

“Florida has always been a competitive state and it will be this fall. Marco had planned to go to the convention before he decided to seek re-election. Since Marco got into the race late, he will be in Florida campaigning and meeting with voters instead of going to Ohio,” spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said.

Has Rubio’s calculus now changed, such that the benefits of being a good soldier are exceeded by the costs of being tainted by Trump’s perceived toxicity? Read this before you answer. If things go sideways for Trump this fall, Rubio’s potentially in big trouble in Florida.