NEW BRAUNFELS — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a quiet observer of the presidential race throughout the primary process, reiterated his neutrality Friday but argued that increased turnout stemming from enthusiasm around Republican frontrunner Donald Trump could work in the party’s favor.
“The Republican primary has been surprising in a lot of ways, but one of those ways is the tremendous voter turnout that we’ve seen across the country, while the turnout in the Democratic primary has been lackluster,” Cornyn said. “That’s going to be really important in November, and my view is that I will support whoever the nominee of the Republican Party is.”
Cornyn has declined to join some of his previously resistant Republican senate colleagues, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, in rallying behind fellow Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as they hope to prevent Trump from winning the nomination.
But with the balance of power in the Senate also up for grabs this November, the majority whip added that he hopes any Republican donors who are dissatisfied with the nominee will instead choose to spend their money on contested races elsewhere on the ballot.
“I think that could well happen,” Cornyn said. “I do believe it’s absolutely critical whether it’s Hillary Clinton or whether it’s a Republican president that we maintain the majority in the Senate so that we can continue to help set the agenda.”
Cornyn’s comments came shortly after accepting the 2016 “Texan of the Year” award at the Texas Legislative Conference in New Braunfels. Introducing Cornyn was Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, the award’s previous winner, who has also remained neutral in the presidential race despite his home-state senator’s candidacy since his preferred contender, Jeb Bush, dropped out in February. Straus appeared to direct a veiled shot at Cruz in his remarks.
“What makes John Cornyn such an effective senator is that he didn’t go to Washington to fight battles and to climb up the ladder,” Straus said. “He’s there to get things done for Texas.”
On Tuesday, Cornyn revealed that he spoke with Cruz after the Texas primary and suggested the junior senator come speak privately to Senate Republicans to try to smooth over deep-rooted tensions. But Cruz apparently remains uninterested in taking that advice.
"It's not like we have some phone tree of U.S. senators to endorse," Jeff Roe, Cruz’s campaign manager, told CNN. "We never built our campaign that way."
Touting his legislative priorities, including reforming the mental health and criminal justice systems, Cornyn suggested he can achieve some of his goals regardless of who holds the Oval Office.
“I think the things I was talking about are really not partisan,” Cornyn said. “So my hope would be that no matter who the next president is that we can advance things like that. But obviously it does matter who is president and whether that president is willing to work with Congress.”
Cornyn also said his views on the Supreme Court nomination process have not been swayed by President Obama’s selection of D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland. The number two Senate Republican has been vocal about his opposition, publishing an op-ed on the subject Friday and sending a fundraising email lambasting Obama for attempting to “push his liberal agenda.”
“Having served as Texas’ Attorney General, I have a unique understanding of how important it is to protect our conservative values from the bench,” Cornyn said in the email. “We can’t allow President Obama to sneak his Supreme Court nominee past the American people!”
But despite his judicial experience, Cornyn said Friday that he probably would not accept a Supreme Court nomination himself if the next president suggests it.
“I feel like I can make the best and biggest contribution by remaining in the United States Senate,” Cornyn said.