Cruz steps into spotlight for Trump

Cruz steps into spotlight for Trump
© Moriah Ratner

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCountdown clock is on for Mueller conclusions Ex-Clinton aide: Dems should make 2020 'about integrity' Cruz: House 'fully intends' to impeach Trump MORE is stepping back into the national spotlight at the Republican National Convention, where his rival, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Countdown clock is on for Mueller conclusions Omar: White supremacist attacks are rising because Trump publicly says 'Islam hates us' MORE, will be crowned the presidential nominee.

Cruz’s speech will be a pivotal moment for the Republican Party in 2016 — and possibly beyond. 

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The Texas senator is widely expected to make another run for the White House in 2020 if the GOP loses in 2016. Cruz finished second to Trump in the 2016 race, and his allies in Cleveland are already seeking rule changes in the next primary that might help him.

“Sen. Cruz’s speech will be viewed by many, if not all, through the lens of him being a potential candidate,” said Charlie Gerow, a GOP communications strategist. “I think he chose wisely to go to Cleveland and to showcase his abilities and his views for the party’s future.”

Republicans will also be watching to see if Cruz has some nice things to say about Trump, who invited the Texan to a speaking role in a gesture of party unity.

Trump has struggled to win over many Republican officeholders, and he got into an altercation with Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar Trump keeps tight grip on GOP MORE (Ariz.) during a visit to the Senate Republican Conference lunch earlier this month. Trump threatened to go after Flake, a frequent critic, and called Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThe global reality behind 'local' problems Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year This week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill MORE (Ill.) a “loser.”

Cruz and Trump started the GOP primary as near allies. Even as other candidates went after Trump with direct criticism, Cruz held back, arguing Trump could be good for the party. The strategy appeared designed to win over Trump supporters if the businessman fell out of the race.

As Cruz emerged as Trump’s fiercest challenger, however, things changed. And by the end of the primary, the relationship between the two had become as nasty as any in a political race.

Trump falsely suggested that Cruz’s father might have played a role in the assassination of John F. Kennedy near the end of the campaign, prompting Cruz to lash out at the first-place candidate in a way that, at the time, made a speaking role at the convention seem unlikely.

Cruz laid into Trump’s personal character, calling the billionaire a “pathological liar” and a “narcissist.”

“Whatever lie he’s telling, in that minute he believes it,” he said at the time. “But the man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him.”

While the two have softened their tones in the months since, Trump hasn’t publicly apologized for the personal attacks against Cruz’s family.

Many think Cruz’s speech will focus on the need to defeat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Ex-Clinton aide: Dems should make 2020 'about integrity' Trump mounts Rust Belt defense MORE, who is set to be nominated for president by Democrats at their own national convention. If he does not offer applause for Trump, he will at least set up the election as one of choice between Clinton and the GOP nominee.

And Republicans say that while Cruz isn’t the most popular man in the Senate, he remains a popular figure among respected conservatives.

“A lot of people listen to Cruz. Even if you don’t like him, you can think he’s intellectually honest,” said Ed Rogers, a veteran GOP strategist.

Rogers suggested that Cruz will give a rousing description for why Republican voters should stick with their party in the fall, both to win the White House and to keep the Senate majority.

“He has to maintain his reputation for philosophical integrity. He could do himself good, a lot of good, to see the way forward,” he said.  

Asked about his speech this week, the Texas senator directed questions to his office.

Cruz has shed some light on what he’ll discuss. He said after meeting with Trump in Washington that he would emphasize the country needs to change direction.

“I’m going to urge Americans to get back to the Constitution to change the path we’re on: eight failed years of the Obama-Clinton economy; eight failed years of a presidency disregarding the Constitution and Bill of Rights,” he told reporters. “Eight failed years of a commander in chief not protecting Americans and keeping us safe from radical Islamic terrorism. It’s time for that to end.”

At the same time, Cruz has yet to endorse Trump and has given little indication one is coming. When Trump met with Cruz earlier this month to discuss a speaking role at the convention, Cruz said they did not discuss an endorsement.

Cruz at times has indicated that his goal is to thank those who helped his campaign.

Earlier this month, he told The Hill, “We’ve got nearly 600 delegates, and I want to go and say thank you for the hard work all of them put in.”

A spokeswoman for Trump didn’t respond to a question about whether Trump’s campaign will be approving Cruz’s remarks.

Cruz is seen as a highly ambitious politician, and one who, at the age of 46, could have plenty of elections in his future.

Yet observers say he will want to avoid putting too much emphasis on his own political future at a convention meant to help this year’s GOP nominee.

Cruz doesn’t have to look far for an example of what not to do.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s keynote speech at the party’s 2012 convention for Mitt Romney was widely viewed as a roadmap to his own bid for the White House. The speech touched on his own accomplishments and didn’t focus on Romney.

At the same time, there are opportunities for Cruz to set himself up for the future, if he can do it the right way. 

Ronald Reagan, an idol for Cruz and most aspiring conservative politicians, spoke at the 1976 convention after losing in a primary to then-President Gerald Ford. The speech positioned him as a contender for the party’s nomination in 1980.

“Cruz has for a long time seen himself as a Reagan-like figure,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “There’s no question that Reagan’s speech at the ’76 convention set him on a path to winning … in 1980. So I think there’s a real opportunity that exists for Cruz as well.”

 

Notable Speakers

SCOTT WALKER

Many saw the Wisconsin governor as a heavyweight in the crowded GOP presidential primary. But in an unpredictable year, he was the first to exit, dropping out of the race back in September. Walker became a national name following his high-profile feuds with labor unions in Wisconsin and was a prolific fundraiser during his presidential run before lackluster debate performances cut into his support.

Walker has also been lukewarm on Trump as the party’s nominee. But he now is in league with many other Republicans in supporting Trump on the grounds that not doing so would put Hillary Clinton in the White House.

 

BEN CARSON

Another rival to Trump during the primaries, Carson tapped into the distaste for the establishment during his 2016 run. The former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon rocketed to conservative stardom in 2013 following a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, during which he blasted President Obama’s policies.

Carson’s fame rests in part on his compelling personal story, which saw him become one of the nation’s preeminent surgeons after being raised by a single mother in Detroit. Carson endorsed Trump in March, shortly after he ended his campaign.

 

PETER THIEL

Trump built his campaign around his record as a businessman and dealmaker, and he’s looking to tap into some of that energy during the convention with speakers like Thiel, a billionaire tech investor.

Thiel was a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook. As a Trump delegate, he is one of the few voices in Silicon Valley behind the GOP candidate.

A staunch libertarian, Thiel has much in common with Republicans when it comes to reducing regulations and taxes, but he doesn’t see eye to eye with the party on everything. For one, he is a supporter of same-sex marriage and is openly gay himself. Trump has not extensively discussed social issues on the campaign trail, but Republican delegates included language calling for marriage to remain between one man and one woman in the party platform.

— Peter Schroeder