* Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
DALLAS — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is making clear that he is in no rush to get behind presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, instead vowing to remain involved in the race for the White House as Trump nears the general election.
“We’ve got a lot of time until this election — two months until the convention, six months until the general election — and I’m going to be doing what I expect many voters will be doing, which is watching and listening to what the candidates have to say, to what they stand for, to how they conduct themselves,” Cruz told The Texas Tribune in an interview before his speech here to the Texas GOP convention.
Speaking from a 20th-floor suite overlooking downtown Dallas, a soft-spoken Cruz was more introspective than usual as he reflected on the race and its fallout. Looking back on his campaign, he denied any complicity in Trump's success, a charge leveled by other Republicans after Cruz's early embrace of the Manhattan developer, and while he avoided directly mentioning Trump, he seemed less than optimistic about the presidency going forward.
"I fear we are approaching four very challenging years," Cruz said, "and I have a responsibility to stand and fight for the men and women who elected me."
Pressed on Saturday whether he is open to ultimately supporting Trump, Cruz did not rule it out, reiterating that he is “watching and listening.” Reminded that many supporters — including those gathered here this weekend — are curious about his plans, Cruz held firm.
“It’s not my role to direct other people as to how they should vote,” he said. “Each of us has to make that decision on their own.”
Cruz also steered clear of Trump’s early days as the presumptive nominee, which have included no shortage of the kinds of controversies that Cruz pounced on during his campaign, including policy reversals and inflammatory comments. On Saturday, the senator declined to say whether the billionaire has done or said anything since Cruz dropped out to make the senator less or more concerned about Trump's candidacy.
“I recognize that Donald is like catnip to reporters, but I don’t have anything else to say about Donald Trump,” Cruz said, emphasizing he was focused on thanking supporters at the convention.
Since Cruz’s exit from the race, he has nonetheless trained some fire on what he sees as Trump’s enablers in the media, perhaps most notably Fox News. Asked about that cable news network in a recent radio interview, Cruz said “there were more than a few players who played a disproportionate role” in Trump’s rise.
The statement evoked memories of Cruz's own early approach to dealing with Trump: effusively praising him while other candidates struggled to tear him down. On Saturday, however, Cruz flatly denied he had a role in Trump's success.
"Not remotely,” Cruz said, laughing, “although I recognize that is a media narrative that is delicious for some to push.”
Cruz then turned serious, saying, "Nobody stood and fought harder, more effectively and for longer, to prevent where we are now than I did."
He reflected on how he was among the last men standing against Trump, and how Trump's celebrity dramatically reshaped the trajectory of the contest.
“This primary election, despite my very best efforts, didn’t hinge on policy," Cruz said. "It didn’t hinge on any particular policy position, rather it was decided on other factors."
Asked if he thought any GOP candidate could have outlasted the political phenomenon that is Trump, Cruz seemed stumped. "I have no idea," he said.
Cruz vowed to remain a forceful advocate for conservative values in the U.S. Senate. Among the first issues he has focused on since the end of his campaign: President Barack Obama’s new guidelines asking public schools to let transgender students use the restrooms that match their gender identities.
“There’s nothing in the Constitution of the United States that makes Barack Obama the bathroom police across this country,” Cruz said Saturday. “That’s lawlessness and arrogance.”
Cruz plans to attend the Republican National Convention in July in Cleveland, though the extent of his involvement in it remains unclear.
“I have no idea what role I’ll play in Cleveland, if any,” Cruz said. “I intend to be there because we’ve got nearly 600 delegates who were elected to represent the people and stand with me, and I owe to them to stand with them.”
Cruz also confirmed his campaign is making a serious effort to protect the GOP platform from changes that Trump has floated.
“There are more than a few forces who would love to see the platform watered down, to make it more like the Democratic platform," Cruz said. Doing so, he added, "would be a profound disservice to Republicans across the country, and so I’m working to ensure that we have strong conservatives and that our platform reflects what we believe as a people."
Toward the conclusion of the interview, Cruz offered an argument for his own future that's not too different from his rationale for getting into the 2016 race: that Republicans are most successful when they do not run to the middle.
“I think it is important that the Republican Party remain a conservative party, that we stand for principles and values that we not become neither hot nor cold but simply lukewarm,” Cruz said, “and I’m going to do everything I can to empower and motivate courageous conservatives across the country to ensure that that’s the case.”
Told by a reporter that his remarks sounded like a potential argument for a 2020 presidential campaign, Cruz ended the interview with only three words: “Time will tell.”