HOUSTON — Seeking to show Texas Republicans are coalescing behind his presidential effort, Ted Cruz on Monday unveiled the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a onetime critic of sorts whose backing gives the U.S. senator his biggest boost yet back home.
Calling it "an important morning in the Republican presidential campaign," Cruz convened Patrick and two other statewide officials at his campaign headquarters here to announce their support as well as that of a half-dozen major donors to former Gov. Rick Perry.
"We're seeing conservatives unite behind this campaign," Cruz declared. "We're seeing Texans unite behind this campaign."
Patrick, who will serve as the Texas chairman of Cruz's campaign, hailed the senator as the only candidate who can truly energize the GOP base in not only the primary but also the general election.
"Our party has been asleep for more than eight years come election time against the Democrats," the lieutenant governor said. Cruz, not known for understatement, returned the praise, saying Patrick would "crawl through broken glass with a knife between his teeth" to fight for conservative values.
The show of home-state advantage, which also included Railroad Commissioners David Porter and Ryan Sitton, gave Cruz fresh fodder to brag about his inroads here: He has the backing of more than third of Republicans in the Texas Legislature, he has been endorsed by about a quarter of the GOP members of the congressional delegation and he has raised more money from Texas than any other candidate. He now has the support of six financial backers of Perry — perhaps most notably Dallas billionaire Darwin Deason, who had given $5 million to a pro-Perry super PAC before the former governor dropped out of the 2016 race last month.
It was also the latest display of how the political currents in the Texas GOP have shifted, at least in Cruz's telling. Asked about the idea of the state being "Bush country," Cruz offered his usual praise for the family but suggested their political brand may be out of date with the GOP failing to win the White House for two elections now.
"Texans recognize circumstances have changed. Seven years of Barack Obama in Washington ... means we need something different, No. 1, to win and, No. 2, to actually turn things around once we do it," Cruz told reporters, some of whom had made the trip to his campaign headquarters from a nearby summit of top donors to GOP foe Jeb Bush.
Cruz also took the opportunity to highlight Texas' outsized influence in the 2016 nominating process, with its earlier-than-usual primary on March 1. While stressing he is taking nothing for granted, Cruz said his campaign believes "Super Tuesday is going to be a very, very good day," especially when it comes to delegate-rich Texas, the "crown jewel" of several Southern states voting that day. Patrick, in turn, promised to make sure Cruz "has the biggest haul of delegates possible on March 1."
Cruz and Patrick were not always as chummy. In the bitter 2012 election that sent Cruz to Washington, D.C., Patrick ultimately supported then-Lt. Gov David Dewhurst and at times tangled with Cruz over Dewhurst's conservative credentials.
By August 2013, Patrick had apparently warmed to Cruz and preemptively backed him for president, drawing cries of flip-flopping from his rivals in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor. On Monday, Patrick made no bones about his early support for Cruz's White House potential.
"I knew then what I know today: There's only one true conservative to lead our party to victory against the Democrats," Patrick said, calling Cruz a "true conservative who can inspire our base across this country like they have not been inspired since Ronald Reagan last carried the banner for our party."
Asked how he came from supporting Dewhurst for Senate in 2012 to Cruz for president in 2015, an animated Patrick kept the focus on why he's currently backing the senator. In the process, the lieutenant governor offered what amounts to the case for Cruz as two other anti-establishment candidates, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and billionaire Donald Trump, top the polls.
"He is the outsider in this race but who understands the inside and how things work, and how to achieve victory in Washington," Patrick told reporters. "Other people can be outsiders, but we don't really know they'll follow up and do what they say."
It's a contrast Cruz's allies have welcomed as he's fought for attention with Carson and Trump, both of whom have never held elected office. On Monday, though, Cruz faced more questions about the establishment lane in the GOP primary, particularly Bush, whose struggling campaign was meeting with top contributors this weekend in Houston to chart a path forward.
Cruz specifically bristled at the suggestion he was comparing Jeb Bush to moderate Republicans who have been unsuccessful in presidential campaigns, including 2008 nominee John McCain. "If you wish to characterize Jeb Bush that way, that's your prerogative," Cruz told a reporter who asked what it was about Jeb Bush that evoked McCain comparisons.
Even the Bushes seemed to be on the mind of Sitton, who along with Porter is serving as a Texas co-chairman of the Cruz campaign. Sitton started his remarks Monday by apparently riffing on a recent report that 43rd president had said of Cruz, "I just don't like the guy."
"You know, about Ted Cruz — I just like the guy," Sitton said, getting a chuckle from Cruz.