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Uncertainty Looms Over Cruz's Role in Cleveland

It has been almost two months since Ted Cruz dropped out of the presidential race, and — at least publicly — his attitude toward the man who beat him has not changed.

Ted Cruz Speaking at GOP Convention in Dallas, May 2016

It has been almost two months since Ted Cruz dropped out of the presidential race, and — at least publicly — his attitude toward the man who beat him has not changed. 

The junior U.S. senator from Texas — like many other voters, he notes — is "watching and listening" to what Donald Trump says and does. He's repeated some variation of that line in the smattering of media appearances he has done since leaving the race, making clear he is not ready to support the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. 

At first, Cruz's refusal to throw his support behind Trump was seen as a natural, temporary byproduct of a bruising primary. But with just three weeks until the Republican National Convention, it is fueling a growing uncertainty about what role, if any, Cruz will have in the festivities next month in Cleveland.

“I think that’s a question on a lot of people’s minds, to be honest," said Amy Clark, vice chairman of the Texas GOP and a Cruz delegate to Cleveland. "We have not had a lot of contact with the campaign since the state convention ... and frankly don't know what the plans are for the [national] convention."

Since he dropped out, Cruz has said he plans to attend the convention to at least thank in person the 500-something delegates he won throughout the primaries. Beyond that, it appears to be anyone's guess what role Cruz will play in Cleveland, an uncertainty he acknowledged Thursday when he flatly said in a radio interview, "I don't know what's going to happen at the convention."

Over the weekend, The New York Times published a story in which Trump said he would not invite Cruz and another former rival, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, to speak unless they endorsed him. The article detailed how Trump's campaign and the Republican National Committee are working to squash any efforts to snatch the nomination from Trump.

Cruz's team provided a deferential statement Monday in response to Trump's ultimatum. 

"We haven’t operated under any assumption that we’ll have a speaking role. Those decisions are up to those planning the convention," said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. "Cruz’s priority in going to Cleveland will be to thank the many delegates who worked hard on his behalf while he was in the race, and he’s looking forward to that."

The ongoing standoff is cold comfort to Texas delegates like Dianne Edmondson, who formerly chaired the Denton County GOP. Edmondson, who is pledged to Trump, believes he and Cruz share "equal responsibility" to ensure the party is unified heading into November. 

It would not hurt, she added, if Trump graciously offered Cruz a speaking slot in Cleveland, and if Cruz made clear in the run-up to the convention that he still stands by his pledge to support the party's nominee.

"If I can speak very frankly, this is not the time for divisiveness from either side — from either the Trumpies or the Cruzies," Edmondson said. "It’s a time to bring the party together."

Hanging over the already fraught Cruz-Trump dynamic are growing efforts to revolt against Trump in Cleveland, potentially by pushing rules changes that would allow delegates to break their pledges and vote however they wish. While Cruz supporters are involved in the efforts, the former candidate and people close to him have been keeping their distance, wary of even the perception of a direct link.

Asked last week if delegates should stop organizing against Trump, Cruz did not say either way. 

"What the delegates do is a decision for the delegates," Cruz said in an interview with the Denver Post. "I am not an elected delegate, so I'm going to let the delegates come to their own conclusions about what they should do at the convention."

In another recent interview, Cruz put a finer point on his stance toward the anti-Trump movement, saying he would not "step up" if delegates are somehow successful in thwarting the presumptive nominee. "That is not something that I am looking to do at all," Cruz said in the interview Thursday on South Carolina radio. 

That is not to say Cruz is not looking to leave his mark on the convention. 

Since Cruz dropped out, a small team of allies has been working for Trusted Leadership PAC, a pro-Cruz super PAC, to make sure Cruz delegates retain influence over the platform and rules processes in Cleveland. The team includes Ken Cuccinnelli, the former attorney general of Virginia who ran the delegate-wrangling operation for Cruz's campaign. 

The team's efforts are not connected to those to thwart Trump in Cleveland, according to people on both sides. 

“The most important thing we need to do right now is protect the Republican Party platform from a lot of the Trumpbots and really what I would call their lack of conservative principles — and prepare the Republican Party for a potentially cataclysmic loss," said Steve Lonegan, the former chairman of Cruz's campaign in New Jersey who is now working to dump Trump at the convention.

"We’re trying to avoid a disaster," Lonegan said, "and others are preparing what to do in the wake of a disaster."

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