“More than four senators” is an odd way to phrase it — does that mean five? 10? — but that’s how Elaina Plott reported it so that’s what I’m passing along.
So much for Trump’s talking point that he has more Senate endorsements than Cruz does. Sounds like Ben Sasse is set to be one of them, which makes sense: Although he’s appeared at rallies for Cruz and Rubio, he’s primarily an anti-Trumper. Formally endorsing Cruz now would send a powerful signal to Rubio fans that Sasse thinks it’s time to get behind Cruz.
That leaves at least four more endorsements to go, though. Who else is ready to join Team Cruz? And are any of them — gasp — establishmentarians?
The forthcoming endorsements are a sign that the members of the upper chamber are beginning to abandon their personal grievances in order to preserve the Republican party of old.
Nebraska’s Ben Sasse has been one of the only Republican senators to publicly take a stand against Trump thus far. In an interview last week, Sasse recounted the moment South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham conceded that Republicans may have to “rally around Ted Cruz as the only way to stop Donald Trump.”
He said his wife turned to him and said, “Well, there’s a man.”
John Cornyn, Cruz’s colleague from Texas, seems like an obvious choice to join Team Ted, if only to protect himself among a primary electorate that just gave Cruz a resounding victory. Rand Paul, a frequent Cruz ally in the Senate, is another possibility although Team Rand attacked Cruz bitterly at times during the primary for supposedly having stolen the Paul message to woo libertarians. I don’t know if Rand will forgive and forget so easily. Mike Lee is also a frequent Cruz ally, most famously during the 2013 shutdown over ObamaCare, but don’t forget that Lee is also pals with Rubio and co-wrote a tax plan with him. Endorsing Cruz before Rubio has dropped out would be a hard shove from a friend that it’s time to get out, and Lee has never struck me as a guy prone to hard shoves. I think he’ll give Rubio until after Florida has voted to make up his mind.
The Cruz endorsers are, I think, likely to be guys whom you don’t see much of in conservative media but who vote reliably conservative and come from states where Cruz has performed well this year. Cruz just won Oklahoma; Jim Inhofe has already endorsed Rubio but James Lankford would be a nice pick-up for Cruz. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have 92 and 91 percent ratings, respectively, from Heritage Action and Cruz is expected to do well in their home state of Idaho. Dan Sullivan from Alaska has only a 63 percent rating from Heritage, but Cruz just beat Trump in his state’s caucus. Endorsing him could be a way for Sullivan to buy some conservative cred cheap. The real suspense with Cruz’s coming endorsements is whether there’ll be any centrists among them to signal to the rest of the party that it’s time to unify against Trump. Crapo et al are nice, but Lindsey Graham showing up at a Cruz event would give the media an aneurysm. And it’s not as unlikely as you might think:
Graham and Cruz had a lengthy phone conversation on Thursday following Graham’s assertion that the GOP may have to unite around Ted Cruz in order to stop Donald Trump. Sources familiar with the call said the two discussed just that.
If anything, the existence of a dialogue between the two reveals a newfound flexibility on both sides. Many had questioned whether Cruz would make overtures to the party establishment if he came close to winning the nomination, and it at least appears he is willing to do so. Graham, for his part — after asserting earlier this week that somebody could murder Cruz on the floor of the Senate and not be prosecuted — appears to have made his peace.
“Ted and I are in the same party. Donald Trump is an interloper,” Graham told former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod on his weekly podcast. “I don’t trust him.”
If ever there was a guy whom you’d think would be a natural match for Rubio, it’s Graham — a fellow Gang of Eight-er and one of the few members of the Senate who even out-hawks Marco. But Graham has always been lukewarm towards Rubio and ended up endorsing Jeb Bush after he dropped out of the primaries earlier this year. He might not blanch at the thought of shoving Rubio towards the exit the way Lee might. And Graham has been searching for ways to influence the primary since last year, first by jumping into the race to serve as an interventionist battering ram against Rand Paul, then throwing punches at Trump after Rand’s candidacy went nowhere, and then backing Jeb before South Carolina in hopes of affecting the outcome there. Nothing’s worked. A splashy endorsement of Cruz might work by showing anti-Cruz righties that it’s time to put personal dislike aside for the good of the party.
The real bombshell endorsement would be McCain, a former party nominee who’d actually stand to benefit more from an alliance with Cruz at this point than Graham would since he could use some conservative cover in his Senate primary. I doubt it’ll happen but the lines would write themselves if it did: “I’m here today because Ted and I agree that Donald Trump is the real wacko bird.” Oh, and by the way: As surreal this may seem, don’t count out the possibility that Mitt Romney himself might turn up at a Cruz primary rally sometime this spring. Romney has a made a point of saying in his interviews the past few days that Rubio, Kasich, or Cruz would all be preferable to Trump as nominee, and he claimed yesterday that not only will he endorse one of them but he’ll campaign for them too. Does he mean in the general election or in the primary as well? If Trump takes Florida and Ohio next Tuesday then there’s only one man left for Romney to support. Can’t wait for the Cruz and Romney victory rallies!
Update: Well, this is awkward.
An earlier post stated that Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign was set to unveil a series of endorsements from Cruz’s fellow senators. The report was erroneous. As of this writing, the campaign has no pending Senate endorsements to announce.
How did NRO get from “more than four senators” to zero in the span of a few hours?