Ted Cruz stalls on endorsing Trump

Ted Cruz stalls on endorsing Trump
© Greg Nash

Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocratic strategist warns Beto should be ‘careful’ with social media presence Hillary advisers battle over whether she’ll run in 2020 O'Rourke writes blog post describing a literal run from near the capitol to near the White House MORE repeatedly declined to endorse Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMichelle Obama says not always easy to live up to "we go high" Georgia certifies elections results in bitterly fought governor's race Trump defends border deployment amid fresh scrutiny MORE for president on Tuesday as he returned to the Senate for the first time since dropping out of the presidential race.

The Texas senator, who finished second to Trump in winning 565 delegates in the GOP primary, according to The New York Times’s delegate tracker, said there is plenty of time to make a decision on an endorsement.

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“There are two and a half months until the Republican convention, six months until the general election,” Cruz told reporters crowded outside his Russell Building office.

“There will be plenty of time for voters to make the determination who they’re going to support,” he continued, saying it would be incumbent on Trump to convince pro-Cruz voters to support him in the general election.

Cruz’s return to the Senate, where he has not cast a vote since February, came one week after he ripped Trump as an “utterly amoral” pathological liar, narcissist and bully. Later that night, Trump soundly defeated the Texan in Indiana’s primary, a loss that Cruz said cut off any path he had toward the GOP nomination.

Overall, however, Cruz’s fight for the GOP nod appeared to lift his stature in the party.

He did much better than the three Republican Senate colleagues who preceded him in exiting the primary: Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover Trump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report MORE (S.C.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Lawmakers struggle with how to punish Saudi Arabia | Trump regrets not visiting Arlington for Veterans Day | North Korea deports detained American Hillicon Valley: Facebook reeling after NYT report | Dems want DOJ probe | HQ2 brings new scrutiny on Amazon | Judge upholds Russian troll farm indictments | Cyber moonshot panel unveils recommendations MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillary advisers battle over whether she’ll run in 2020 Rubio defends '3 point kick' analogy: 'You think everyone who follows politics knows what a field goal is?' Lawmakers to introduce bipartisan bill targeting China's treatment of Muslims MORE (Fla.).

He also finished ahead of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

GOP senators were left impressed with a colleague who has often frustrated them. Several say he raised his image and standing with his presidential run.

“He ran a high-profile campaign for the president, did a lot better than I did. He was one of the last guys standing,” said Graham, who a few months ago joked at the annual Congressional Dinner that no one would be convicted for killing Cruz on the Senate floor if the trail were held in the upper chamber. 

As a result, any disappointment Cruz must have felt in his return to Capitol Hill appeared to be tempered with an ever-present faith in his own abilities to lead the conservative movement in the future.

Cruz was greeted outside his office by a crush of reporters and television cameras jockeying for space in the narrow hallway of the Senate office building, a much larger crowd than attended the return of Rubio.

Reporters immediately engulfed him and began shouting questions about Trump and his own political future, while his staffers did their best to control the crowd.  

Cruz dismissed talk of finding a third-party alternative to Trump  — something being fanned by prominent conservatives such as Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and radio host Erick Erickson.

“I have no interest in a third-party bid,” he said.

He also downplayed speculation that he might revive his challenge to Trump at a later date.

“Listen, we have suspended the campaign because I can see no viable path to victory,” he said.  

Cruz faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where colleagues remain wary of his confrontational style. He has been a thorn in the side of GOP leaders since his arrival in 2013.

“The process did elevate Ted. How he uses that is up to him,” said Graham.

Many Republican senators say they are eager to work with Cruz, but echoed Graham’s comments that much depends on Cruz.

“We’re happy to have him back,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover Trump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship As Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural MORE (R-Ky.), who has clashed with Cruz in the past, told reporters Tuesday.

But when asked if he would work more closely with the Texas freshman going forward, McConnell said: “You ought to ask him that.”

Cruz said his priority will be to support “free-market principles and the constitutional liberties of America” as well as legislation that promotes “jobs, freedom and security.”

He didn’t soften his language, painting Congress as awash in crony politics that benefit primarily wealthy lobbyists and campaign contributors.

“[In] this town, too many elected officials listen to big money and special interests and lobbyists. The rich get richer under Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFDA tobacco crackdown draws fire from right As Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural Trump's take on midterms: ‘Epic' win in Senate, ‘better than other sitting Presidents’ in House MORE. Today the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our income than any year since 1928,” he said.

Cruz’s frequent efforts to contrast himself with the GOP establishment, which he calls part of the “Washington cartel,” and to question the motives of leaders and colleagues has made him the least-liked member of the Senate.

He is expected to dive back into the Senate’s granular business. He plans to take an active role in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s markup of the annual defense bill this week.

He will also push his bill, the Expatriate Terrorist Act, which would strip U.S. citizenship from people who serve in or aid a terrorist organization. The Senate Judiciary Committee is slated to mark it up on Thursday. 

Cruz at times sounded like a politician already testing out a message for the 2020 presidential election as he spoke on Tuesday.

“If fighting for the American people makes you an outsider in the Senate, then I’ll happily remain an outsider because, at least to date, Congress, both parties, both houses, far too often hasn’t been listening to the American people,” he said.

“This battle is a lot more than one election and one candidate.”