The Republican establishment is sending in the cavalry for Ted CruzTed CruzCruz, Lee, Paul demand 'full repeal' of ObamaCare Dem senator: Confirm Gorsuch, Garland simultaneously THE MEMO: Trump takes the fight to Congress MORE, the latest unexpected twist in a presidential race that has defied all expectations.
Many prominent members of the GOP establishment intensely dislike Cruz. But they now acknowledge that he is the best option — perhaps the only option — to deny Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGeorge W. Bush: 'I don’t like the racism’ Trump budget may cut State dept. anti-Semitism positions: report Trump: It’s ‘better’ I skip WH dinner MORE their party’s nomination.
Bush’s admiration for Cruz was noticeably lacking during the Floridian’s own run for the White House, when he mocked the Texan for political expediency. During one town hall meeting in New Hampshire, Bush said that Cruz had believed in immigration reform “until he went into the witness protection program.”
Bush is just the latest establishment figure to throw support to Cruz.
Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, urged voters in Utah — a state in which he has deep roots — to support Cruz in caucuses Tuesday night. Though Romney stopped short of a full endorsement of Cruz, he went as far as to record robocalls on the senator’s behalf in which he said that it was “time for Republicans across the spectrum to unite behind Ted.”
Cruz won Utah in a landslide, though he lost the night’s biggest prize, the Arizona primary, to Trump.
Another late entry into the Cruz camp is South Carolina Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamMarch is the biggest month for GOP in a decade The Hill's 12:30 Report Back to the future: Congress should look to past for Fintech going forward MORE, who recently helped raise money for the Texan’s campaign. Less than a month before, Graham had joked that “if you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”
The newfound enthusiasm for Cruz looks to some like an admission that desperate times call for desperate measures. But skeptics suggest the effort is doomed for precisely that reason.
“These guys look like all desperation and as if they have really no means, or ability, to speak to the core constituents who are supporting Donald Trump,” said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “At this last minute, it’s, ‘Now we support Ted,’ after you spent the best part of a year telling America how much you hate him.”
“It’s disingenuous,” Steele added. “People aren’t stupid. They see it for what it is.”
Cruz’s chances of winning the nomination outright appear small, as he now trails Trump by 275 delegates. The magic number to clinch the GOP nomination is 1,237.
Cruz currently has 463 delegates to Trump’s 738, according to a New York Times count. That means Cruz would need to win around 90 percent of the remaining 848 delegates in the contests. For Trump, the equivalent figure is just 59 percent.
But some Republicans suggest that if Cruz could get close to Trump’s number — and keep the businessman a significant margin short of 1,237 — there may be a chance of the nomination being wrested away from Trump at the convention.
Conversely, however, if Cruz does not significantly narrow Trump’s advantage, it will be all over, bar the shouting.
“If [Trump] loses, it has to be legitimate,” said Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist who has worked for conservative presidential candidates in recent cycles, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Bachmann'Real Housewives' producer 'begging' Conway to join cast Ex-rep admires furs amid PETA inaugural gala Why Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog MORE (Minn.). “If he comes in 50 or 100 votes short, it’s going to be awful hard to take it off him. But if Cruz got to within 100, that could be different.”
Many insiders are dubious of the idea that the new tide of establishment support for Cruz will catalyze a movement of primary voters toward him. But they note that major fundraising players formerly allied with Bush could now come over to Cruz’s side.
With primaries still to come in large states with expensive media markets, including New York, New Jersey and California, campaign cash will be important. So will having money available right until the last day of voting in the GOP race, June 7.
The establishment shift could have another effect, too. The third candidate who remains in the GOP race, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, has been seeking to position himself as the standard-bearer for establishment hopes. But Kasich’s campaign is ailing badly: He has won only his home state and, on Tuesday night, came in behind Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio moves to name street outside Russian embassy after slain opposition leader THE MEMO: Trump takes the fight to Congress Rubio says town halls designed for people to 'heckle and scream' MORE in Arizona, despite Rubio having ended his campaign almost a week before.
The move by big centrist names toward Cruz is “sending a clear message to Kasich that it is time to get out,” said GOP strategist and Hill contributor Matt Mackowiak. “He is playing spoiler, he has no real path to the nomination. People who would be for him are choosing to be with Cruz because he has a better chance. That is a powerful thing in and of itself.”
Whether it will be powerful enough, however, is an entirely different question. The geographical territory for many of the remaining contests — particularly the large number of Northeastern states that have still to vote — favors Trump. So too does the absence of caucuses from the rest of the calendar, as those contests have been favorable to Cruz.
Looking at the overall picture, some Republicans say it may be too late.
“If they had taken Donald Trump’s candidacy seriously from the beginning — if they had not misread the message that was coming from the voters who were supporting him — perhaps this thing would have played itself out differently,” Steele said.