Analysis: Hold or Fold on Trump? Cruz Has 45 Days

Some Republicans would like to see U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz change his position and endorse GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. That would require some difficult political acrobatics, but it's still possible.

President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen Ted Cruz.
President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen Ted Cruz.  Mike Segar-REUTERS/Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

Editor's note: If you'd like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey's column, click here.

It sounds like a pitch for a sitcom (if you think this is kind of fun) or a drama (if you don’t):

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has been talking like he might come around on Donald Trump, the GOP’s presidential nominee.

Trump’s Texas drum major — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — has been trying to get Cruz and less famous Never-Trumps on the bandwagon.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul has a toe in the water, testing the idea that Republicans might be willing to look at an alternative to Cruz in the 2018 race for U.S. Senate.

Cruz, the incumbent junior senator from Texas and a vanquished presidential candidate, has a lot to think about.

He gave a speech at the Republican National Convention that sounded like it would end with an endorsement right up until it ended — without an endorsement.

It was a remarkable poke in the eye, if not necessarily an effective one; the snub might have hurt Cruz more than it hurt his intended target. He cemented things with his explanation of why he didn’t endorse in a way that make it particularly hard to come around now with kisses and hugs for the nominee.

Cruz has had plenty of time to hear about that, traveling the state to sound out voters and other constituents — those wanting to slap him on the back for his pluck and those wanting to slap his face for his impertinence. More privately, he has been hearing from advisers and donors who are now trying to decide whether to stick with Cruz for a re-election bid in 2018 and a possible return to the presidential hustings in 2020.

Fellow officeholders are exhorting him to endorse. At least one potential Senate challenger is making preliminary inquiries. What happens in the next couple of months could affect Cruz’s chances in either of those races.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The intra-party grumbling has been strong enough to catch McCaul’s ear. The Austin Republican, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has been advising Trump on those issues and has also acknowledged that some Republicans have encouraged him to consider challenging Cruz. He criticized Cruz’s non-endorsement on the radio this week, saying, “"I think what he did at the convention turned off a lot of people. I mean, he pledged to support [Trump]. He broke his word."

Cruz risks Republicans viewing him as unprincipled if he endorses, or unloyal to the party if he doesn’t.

Like McCaul, Patrick is exhorting Republicans to get on the Trump train. He said — also in radio interviews this week — that Cruz and other holdouts “will be left in the rearview mirror of the Republican Party moving forward.”

Cruz could simply endorse Trump and be done with it. He’s made it clear that he’s not for Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, but hasn’t taken it further.

If he does, he will have to explain how his change of heart was anything more than politics as usual. During the presidential campaign, Cruz had promised to endorse the party’s nominee, no matter who that turned out to be.

"The day that was abrogated was the day this became personal," Cruz said the morning after his speech. "I'm not going to get into criticizing or attacking Donald Trump."

"And that pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go slander and attack Heidi, then I'm not going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father."

That frost has thawed — a little. Now Cruz is saying he wants the party’s candidates to hold the Senate, and he wants to fight Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency.

That doesn’t leave him many places to go. He risks Republicans viewing him as unprincipled if he endorses, or unloyal to the party if he doesn’t.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Or, since this started as a story pitch, he comes up with a really convincing way to bring the election year to a happy close that preserves his political future.

More columns from Ross Ramsey:

  • Tom “Smitty” Smith, a colorful lobbyist and liberal activist who turned Public Citizen Texas into a strong voice on environmental, utility, consumer and ethics issues, is hanging up his spurs after 31 years.
  • Before you blame voters for Texas' remarkably low election turnout, look at state law. If elections were run by a business, and if high voter turnout was a goal, wouldn't they be trying to make it easier to vote instead of harder?
  • Outside of the presidential race, the 2016 election in Texas is pretty quiet — so quiet that a lot of political people are spending their time talking about 2018 — and even 2020 as well.