Top conservatives meet at secret dinner to discuss Cruz's future
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Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzGOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill Cruz: Jokes about me in Franken's book 'obnoxious' The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Texas) attended a confidential dinner with more than 20 top conservatives on Tuesday night to plan his comeback as a movement leader in the mold of Ronald Reagan.

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The dinner was at the Virginia home of conservative activist Brent Bozell, and the agenda was to plot Cruz’s future and the future of the conservative movement. 

The undertone of the dinner was about how to position Cruz for a future tilt at the presidency and to spearhead the conservative movement from his seat in the Senate, those in attendance said.

Dining with Cruz and his chief of staff, Paul Teller, were some of the most powerful figures in the conservative movement. 

The spectrum of economic, national security and social conservatives seated at the table included Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, Club for Growth President David McIntosh, direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie, National Rifle Association board member and former Cincinnati Mayor Ken Blackwell, and Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, sources confirmed. 

According to those in attendance, the leaders discussed how they could work more effectively together and how to harness their vast financial and human networks in the service of conservative principles and Cruz's career.

Combined, those at the table have access to hundreds of millions of dollars and some of the largest ground armies on the right. 

There was no specific discussion of electoral politics or whether Cruz will support presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDNC calls for suspension of Kushner's security clearance amid FBI scrutiny Reporter assaulted by GOP candidate: Most 'surreal experience' of my career Lawyer: Kushner to cooperate on all probes of Russia meetings MORE this cycle. 

Many of the leaders at the dinner want Cruz to run for president again, and they are viewing Cruz’s unsuccessful 2016 run as similar to Reagan’s failed attempt in 1976 to unseat the incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford. 

Private conversations with sources at the dinner kept turning up the same analogy: Reagan came back to win the presidency in 1980. And Cruz, they think, can do the same in 2020. 

Cruz’s office declined to comment on the dinner and none of the five sources The Hill spoke to who attended would speak on the record about the conversation. 

Contacted late Wednesday, Bozell said he wouldn’t reveal off-the-record conversations but stressed the dinner “was not about what Ted Cruz was going to do with Donald Trump.” 

“There was just discussion of the future of the movement and the future of Ted Cruz as the leader of the movement,” Bozell told The Hill. 

“There are a lot of similarities with Reagan in ’76, where Reagan came very close and then in ’80 won the presidency,” he said. 

“It wasn’t a function of ignoring [Trump] or he wasn’t worth our time. … There were people in that room who’ve taken different positions on this race. You’ve got the Never Trump and you’ve got people who are for Trump in that room. 

“I wanted to keep the focus on the future of the movement and Ted Cruz.” 

Bozell said he derived “a feeling of enthusiasm for [Cruz] going forward.” 

“He was with kindred spirits, and I would say most people in that room see him as the leader of the conservative movement.” 

The dinner table discussion involved some digs at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal MORE (R-Ky.), though the attacks did not come from Cruz, who gained notoriety last July when he called McConnell a liar on the Senate floor. 

Asked about anti-McConnell comments at the dinner, Bozell laughed and said, “In any gathering of conservatives, if you don’t have a negative comment about Mitch McConnell then you didn’t have a good conversation.” 

McIntosh — who as leader of the conservative group Club for Growth authorized millions of dollars in primary campaign spending in a failed attempt to stop Trump — said his group is now focused on keeping Republican control of the House and Senate and ensuring a solid future for the conservative movement. 

He said he personally views Cruz as an important figure in the future of the movement, no matter what happens in November with Trump. 

“I think [Cruz] earned the position of being the leader of the conservative movement in terms of an elected official,” McIntosh told The Hill on Wednesday. 

“Talking to him … I think he’s thinking about how to do that and ready to step into that leadership role,” he added, saying he wouldn’t get into private conversations had at the dinner. 

“I’m a huge Ronald Reagan fan so the analogy I used with Ted is, ‘You’re Ronald Reagan in 1977 and you’ve got a choice: Are you going to take on the leadership of the movement?’ ” 

Reagan was also on the mind of Morton Blackwell, another conservative activist who attended the Bozell dinner and, like McIntosh, wouldn’t break confidences to a reporter. 

Cruz was Blackwell’s choice for president and said the Texan “would’ve been the first Reaganite that the Republican Party has nominated for president since Ronald Reagan.” 

“I am very high on Sen. Cruz, and I know that there are millions of other people committed to conservative principles that share my view. 

“If he ran for president in 2020 he would still be in his 40s,” Blackwell added. 

Bozell said he didn’t want the story about his dinner to suggest that electoral politics were the focus of the discussion; but he couldn’t help adding a note about just that. 

“We didn’t look at the political, again on purpose. We wanted to look at the future of the movement from the standpoint of ideas,” he said. 

Bozell paused. 

“Although, clearly I would say most people in that room would like to see him run for president again.”