Ah, I remember that speech well. It was high-five material on conservative blogs for days, back when Cruz was still a populist hero to Trump fans rather than “Lyin’ Ted.” He delivered it last July, a month after Trump declared his candidacy, with the Trump/Cruz bromance still in full flower. Cruz was eager to impress Trump’s supporters in the belief that they’d soon stampede towards him as Trump inevitably collapsed in the polls. Fast-forward eight months and here we are:
Sixty-three percent of Trump’s supporters say that if he earns more delegates than the other candidates but does not become the party nominee, then he should run as an independent or third party candidate. Among Republican primary voters overall, a third think in that case he should run independently.
When CBS asked Republicans whether they’d support Trump or Cruz as nominee enthusiastically, with reservations, reluctantly, or not at all, Trump actually polled a bit better than Cruz did. He netted 66 percent on enthusiastically/with reservations, including 41 percent in the first category. Cruz netted 57 percent, with just 31 percent saying they’d back him enthusiastically. Eighteen percent said they wouldn’t support Trump while 20 percent said so about Cruz, meaning that, for the moment at least, there are more #NeverCruzers than #NeverTrumpers. Is that a function of Cruz trailing Trump in delegates right now, with the numbers bound to move if he wins the nomination on the second ballot, or is it something more durable?
Incidentally, this is an easy question Todd’s asking. It’s superficially difficult in the sense that Cruz is trying to make nice with establishment Republicans right now (especially ones with big checkbooks) and should therefore, in theory, be leery of criticizing McConnell. But McConnell is such a lightning rod for Cruz’s conservative populist base that there’s no way he could retreat on previous criticism of him without being attacked as a sellout. It’d be like asking Bernie Sanders if he thinks he’s been too hard on Wall Street. Saying yes would earn him some money while costing him countless votes and draining away his fans’ enthuasism. Of course the answer is no. In fact, I wonder how McConnell himself would advise Cruz to play this. If it’s true that having Cruz at the top of the ticket is better for Senate incumbents this fall than having Trump there, McConnell has every incentive to play punching bag. His hopes for the primaries died when the last establishmentarian with a chance of winning, Marco Rubio, dropped out. For Mitch and the Senate, it’s all just a matter of enabling the lesser of two evils now. If that means letting Cruz call you a liar, hey.
Update: TPM has a fun piece littered with quotes from Republican senators who are, shall we say, lukewarm on the idea of endorsing Cruz.
But despite Cruz and his allies’ efforts, senators don’t seem willing to take the leap for Cruz especially after watching their first choice candidates fizzle out on the trail. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who originally had backed Rubio, said he was approached by Lee about if he was thinking about endorsing Cruz. His answer? “Nope.”
Scott, another Rubio backer, said that he plans to stay on the sidelines until delegates decide on a nominee in Cleveland even though Cruz had talked to him directly.
“The fact of the matter is one endorsement is plenty per cycle,” Scott said…
“It’s pretty tough to just let bygones be bygones when the person who is asking you for your endorsement is a person that’s labeled you as the problem with Washington,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN). “He is trying to have it both ways and I don’t think he can have it both ways.”
The butthurt is eternal, even if the price of never getting over it is Trump as nominee. (Which it may be if Indiana pols like Coats don’t help Cruz take that state.) Belated exit question: Is Cruz seeking these endorsements to help him against Trump or to help him against Kasich? Kasich’s centrist voters might be moved by a stampede on Capitol Hill towards Cruz as the one true anti-Trump behind whom everyone must unite. Who else is being moved by them?