Why Cruz flipped on Trump

Why Cruz flipped on Trump
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Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzState Department's top arms control official leaving Sanders NASA plan is definitely Earth first Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE surprised and dismayed many conservatives Friday when he announced his support for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE. It was a move that, only a short while before, one prominent Cruz ally had said would make no sense.

Cruz positioned himself during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July as the rare politician who would put principle ahead of party loyalty, pointedly refusing to endorse Trump during a primetime speech.

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Sources familiar with Cruz’s thinking say he now acknowledges he underestimated the intensity of the negative backlash that would ensue.

The end of his speech could barely be heard above the clamor of boos. Establishment Republicans quickly piled on, arguing that Cruz’s has few friends in Washington because of his overweening ambition. 

But Cruz allies countered that he left Cleveland well positioned to run as a principled conservative in the 2020 Republican presidential primary — assuming Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMissing piece to the Ukraine puzzle: State Department's overture to Rudy Giuliani On The Money: Trump downplays urgency of China trade talks | Chinese negotiators cut US trip short in new setback | Trump sanctions Iran's national bank | Survey finds Pennsylvania, Wisconsin lost the most factory jobs in past year Meghan McCain, Ana Navarro get heated over whistleblower debate MORE would beat Trump in November.

Amanda Carpenter, a former advisor to Cruz, tweeted on Wednesday “it would be nuts for Cruz to blow up the convention only to endorse Trump in the end.”

She argued he should stick with his position since he’d already taken a political hit for it.

But Cruz said Friday he changed his mind for two reasons: He promised last year to support the party nominee, and he considers Trump better than Clinton, despite his own policy and personal differences with the GOP nominee.

“By any measure Hillary Clinton is wholly unacceptable — that’s why I have always been #NeverHillary,” he wrote on Facebook.

Conservative activists and Republican strategists think there are several other factors at play.

They believe that Cruz’s continued estrangement from Trump and his supporters would have been a liability in the freshman senator’s 2018 reelection race — and in any future presidential bid.

“Some of his critics might say it’s a little opportunistic now that Trump looks like he’s doing better in the polls than when he gave his speech at the convention. It’s a little self-serving, some of his critics might say,” said Chip Saltsman, a GOP strategist who advised former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s (R) presidential campaign.

“What’s changed? The polls?” he said.

A spokeswoman for Cruz did not respond to a request for comment.

At the time of the convention, Trump looked like a long shot to defeat Clinton. But after shaking up his campaign in August — Paul Manafort was pushed out as campaign chairman, and Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon and GOP strategist Kellyanne Conway were brought in — Trump gained ground in the polls.

Meanwhile, even Democrats acknowledge that Clinton’s campaign lost momentum. Her near collapse during a 9/11 memorial event in New York prompted new questions about her health and fueled suspicions that she has not been transparent with the public.

Now Trump is looking like a more viable candidate, even his strongest Republican critics concede.

“It’s an acknowledgement and public recognition on Cruz’s part that Trump is the nominee of the party and realistically Trump’s probably going to win this fall,” said Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, who served as a Cruz surrogate during the presidential primary.

“At this point I’d put money on Trump winning. If you asked me a month ago, I would have predicted Hillary in a landslide but she continues to implode,” he added. “I’m a little shocked. Trump has become a fairly disciplined candidate.”

Republican strategists say the primary showed there’s a large chunk of not particularly ideological voters in the party who are fiercely loyal to Trump. That’s true in Texas, which Cruz carried easily in the primary, as well as in other parts of the country.

Cruz can’t afford to alienate them when he’s up for reelection in 2018.

“I think he’s worried about his primary,” said a Senate Republican adviser.

“Trump obviously has a pretty serious brand image in the state of Texas among primary voters. The last thing Cruz wants to do is risk his seat in the Senate because he doesn’t say something nice about Trump at the end of the race,” the adviser added.

Cruz’s critics in the party establishment, including major donors, have urged House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the second-richest member of Congress, to challenge Cruz in two years.

McCaul criticized Cruz on Tuesday for breaking his promise to support the party’s nominee.

“I think what he did at the convention turned off a lot of people,” McCaul told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. “He pledged to support [the nominee.] He broke his word.”

Earlier this month, Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Paul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer MORE, the senior senator from Texas, declined to endorse Cruz ahead of the 2018 primary.

Cruz’s announcement elicited yowls of disappointment from conservatives in the Never Trump camp, which has shrunk significantly since Trump clinched the nomination.

Conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck declared Friday a “profoundly sad day for me,” adding that “disappointment doesn’t begin to describe” his feelings.

Quin Hillyer, a conservative columnist who participated in the Never Trump movement, said the endorsement was “a terrible mistake,” especially after Trump attacked Cruz’s family so personally during their contest.

“To endorse a man who not just once but at last twice terribly insulted your wife and multiple times accused your father of a heinous crime is to emasculate yourself,” he said.

Trump backers are still incensed about Cruz’s performance at the convention. But their animosity is more likely to fade now that Cruz has pledged his support.

Any damage caused to Cruz’s standing with conservative allies who remain staunchly opposed to Trump may be fleeting.

“I don’t think it will hurt him very much. The vast majority of Republicans have already gotten on board [with Trump,]” said Mike Farris, chancellor of Patrick Henry College and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, another conservative leader who participated in the Never Trump movement.

In the end, activists and strategists believe Cruz made a simple calculation of potential future political advantages and costs. 

“I think everything he does is maybe not entirely motivated by future elections but certainly influenced by future elections,” Farris said. “It’s not wrong. He’s just counted the costs and decided he’d rather do this.”