Ted Cruz’s Senate Outreach Isn’t Going Well

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has decided he may want some help from Washington after all to stop Trump.

But alas, his entreaties to his Senate colleagues aren’t going very well.

Cruz is facing varied and dynamic obstacles in his quest to build support on the Hill. Some senators are stubbornly nursing grudges against the freshman senator’s 2013 government shutdown gambit or any other number of slights and affronts he committed as a freshman senator that made him deeply unpopular. Other senators endorsed candidates who already dropped out of the race and are unwilling to repeat that mistake with Donald Trump the clear frontrunner and Cruz likely needing a contested convention to win the nomination.

Ultimately, Cruz is little more than a polarizing colleague asking individual senators to go out on a limb for him on his long-shot bid to deny Trump the nomination. It’s a request that makes for sometimes awkward private conversations.

According to one Republican senator, who was given anonymity to disclose details about the conversation with Cruz he had, Cruz’s pitch went beyond a standard courtesy call.

“It wasn’t a short phone call,” the Republican senator said. “It wasn’t a hello, help me phone call.”

The senator said Cruz’s pitch is that even though he had disagreements with the conference on strategy, he and his colleagues had shared the same goals.

Cruz has been reaching out both by phone and in person to make appeals to senators. He spoke directly with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) when he was in Colorado last weekend and talked on the telephone with freshman South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott last week. He’s also dispatched his only two Senate supporters so far Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and onetime adversary Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to make appeals on the Hill in his stead.

Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said he’d personally advised Cruz weeks ago to come back to the Hill and make a pitch to the conference if he was serious about shoring up support.

But despite Cruz and his allies’ efforts, senators don’t seem willing to take the leap for Cruz especially after watching their first choice candidates fizzle out on the trail. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who originally had backed Rubio, said he was approached by Lee about if he was thinking about endorsing Cruz. His answer? “Nope.”

Scott, another Rubio backer, said that he plans to stay on the sidelines until delegates decide on a nominee in Cleveland even though Cruz had talked to him directly.

“The fact of the matter is one endorsement is plenty per cycle,” Scott said.

And the list goes on.

“I won’t be endorsing anybody until we got a nominee coming out of Cleveland,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC)

Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) who said Wednesday Cruz was the only conservative candidate left in the race, later clarified to reporters that the compliment was not to be taken as a Cruz endorsement.

Aside from approaching endorsement-wary senators, Cruz’s other struggle is perception. He is attempting to coalesce support in Washington while simultaneously trying to maintain his reputation as an outsider. Cruz’s screeds against the “Washington cartel” were supposed to help him sail to the nomination in a fervently anti-establishment election cycle, but it turns out now he needed the very senators he has been campaigning against.

“It’s pretty tough to just let bygones be bygones when the person who is asking you for your endorsement is a person that’s labeled you as the problem with Washington,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN). “He is trying to have it both ways and I don’t think he can have it both ways.”

Another Republican senator speaking on background said “In my case, I’ll support him if he is the nominee, but I don’t intend to do anything else.”

There also is no indication that Cruz has made attempts to apologize to the Republican Senate’s leader, Mitch McConnell, a man with major sway in the GOP whom Cruz once called a “liar.” A spokesman for McConnell’s office told TPM he was not aware of any conversations between the senators recently. The Cruz campaign did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.

A McConnell endorsement could change the game for Cruz and signal to other Republican senators that it is time to put old trespasses out of mind to preserve the party.

Short of that, it looks like Cruz is going to have to keep working the delegate game without a big assist from Washington.

“He’s purposefully separated himself from Washington so he could run that kind of a campaign. That is his strategy,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who said he had not heard from Cruz and does not fault him for that. “He’s probably proud of the fact that he doesn’t have a lot of support because that way he’s got credentials with his grassroots effort to be president.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauren Fox is a reporter at Talking Points Memo.
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