But Cruz saw that Trump was popular with a faction of the Republican base, so he cozied up to the demagogue, became a mendacious apologist for his egregious misbehavior, and brazenly misled the public about Trump’s character. Cruz did this because he thought that he could co-opt Trump’s popularity and win over a lot of his populist supporters. Instead, he helped to legitimate Trump, ratified the narrative that Trump alone forces the media to pay attention to the issues most important to a faction of Republican voters, and sapped some of the strongest critiques of Trump—the ones that Cruz would later used in his own attack ads—of their potency.
Cruz is, of course, just one dishonest man. Other members of “the party,” including other candidates on the debate stage beside him, were attacking Trump.
For months, however, they weren’t doing so any more than they were attacking one another. At times, it seemed like Jeb Bush disliked Marco Rubio as much as Trump. He aimed his fire at his fellow Floridian because, at the time, it seemed politically expedient. And Rubio, at times, directed his fire at rivals he’d prefer to Trump.
That, too, sent signals and cues to voters.