CLEVELAND — Top Texas Republicans have spent the past two days at their national convention preaching unity at every turn, urging their ranks to unify behind presidential nominee Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, their most elusive recruit will take center stage: Ted Cruz.
With the Texas senator still withholding his support from Trump, state GOP leaders are not working to change his mind. Instead, they are giving him space — even with hours to go until Cruz delivers his highest-profile speech since dropping out of the presidential race more than two months ago, paving the way for Trump to clinch the nomination.
"Obviously with 17 people running for the nomination, there are going to be people who are disappointed, but in all the times I've run for office, I've found that there's one irrefutable rule: It's the candidate who gets the most votes wins, and that's just the way it is," U.S. Sen. John Cornyn told reporters Tuesday. "And so people are going to have their own timetable and their own ways of adjusting to that reality, but I'm looking forward to what Sen. Cruz has to say when he speaks to the convention."
"I think we give Sen. Cruz the room to decide what he's going to do there," added Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler.
Such attitudes underscore just how sensitive the situation remains between Cruz and Trump, who waged a bruising primary battle against the Texas senator that did not spare his wife and father. Since Cruz exited the race, he has given no indication that he is moving closer to endorsing Trump, as evidenced again Monday in an interview with Politico.
"In this election I am where a great many voters are, which is that I am listening and watching and coming to a decision," Cruz said, repeating the line he first shared days after dropping out.
Some are more hopeful than others that Cruz will eventually get behind Trump, even if it does not happen Wednesday. The main source of their optimism: Trump's decision earlier this month to invite Cruz to speak at the convention — and Cruz's decision to accept.
"The fact that Ted is here, the fact that Ted said two weeks ago he had a very positive conversation with Donald Trump, the fact that Donald Trump gave him a primetime slot, says a lot," said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the former chairman of Cruz's campaign in his home state and now a forceful Trump supporter.
Cruz's stay in Cleveland will not be long. He is set to attend a thank-you reception for supportive delegates Wednesday afternoon at a bar on the city's waterfront before his address in the evening to the full convention. He is scheduled to speak to Texas delegates Thursday morning before heading out in the afternoon en route to Georgia, where he is due to campaign for a congressional candidate.
Cruz's arrival comes on the third day of a convention over which he has occasionally loomed large, even when absent. The chaotic scene that unfolded Monday on the floor was driven by many pro-Cruz delegates looking to derail Trump's nomination by rejecting convention rules passed last week by a committee.
On Tuesday evening, when Trump officially became the nominee, Patrick alluded to Cruz when the roll call came to Texas, saying it was casting 104 votes for "our favorite son, who we love." As for Trump, Patrick called the nominee — who won 48 delegates in the March primary — "our new friend, our latest, adopted favorite son."
Cruz's non-support stands in stark contrast to how enthusiastically some Texas Republicans have gotten behind Trump. Among them are ex-Cruz backers Patrick and Rick Perry, the former governor and presidential aspirant who once called Trump a "cancer on conservatism."
Asked Monday if it was time for Cruz to support Trump, Perry declined to apply any pressure, twice saying that it is "his call."
"I would hope everyone at this particular point in time can be for our nominee," Perry told reporters after a breakfast with Texas delegates. "You'll need to go ask anyone who's not at this convention or not supporting Donald Trump publicly their reason."
Perry did say he talked with Cruz about supporting Trump but volunteered little further detail. "I ask people, 'Listen, let's help Donald Trump,'" Perry told reporters.
Steve Munisteri, former chairman of the Texas GOP, was a bit more candid when asked Monday about the prospect of Cruz withholding his support through the election.
"I think if before November, those elected officials that come together for the ticket — that will be a plus for them," Munisteri said.