U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is saying he does not believe Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump will win the GOP nomination, an unusually candid assessment of a rival he has sought to portray as a close ally.
In an interview recorded Thursday, Cruz was asked whether he believes he could ultimately beat Trump, the bomb-throwing billionaire whom he has steadfastly refused to criticize in a self-described effort to avoid intra-party squabbling.
"I think that's right," Cruz replied. "I think in time, I don't believe Donald is going to be the nominee, and I think in time, the lion's share of his supporters end up with us."
The senator's statement marks his most direct judgment yet of an opponent who has led the GOP field for months and found sway with the same anti-establishment voters Cruz is courting. Surveys have shown Cruz is among the top back-up choices of Trump supporters, including in Texas.
Cruz has cultivated a chummy relationship with Trump, praising his ability to draw attention to certain issues and even inviting him to speak at a rally against President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran. Both hopefuls have brushed off the idea they have forged some kind of alliance; Trump has specifically suggested he will not hesitate to attack if Cruz sours on him.
In the interview, which was conducted with New York radio host Rita Cosby, Cruz's comments on Trump were largely positive. Cruz echoed familiar praise for Trump, calling his candidacy "tremendously helpful to my campaign because it's framed the central question of this primary: Who will stand up to Washington?"
However, Cruz's remark about Trump's chances is unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon. As word of the interview spread late Thursday, a Trump adviser shared Cruz's assessment on Twitter and simply said, "I disagree!"