Cruz's Convention Speech May Hurt His Re-Election Bid

Cruz's Convention Speech May Hurt His Re-Election Bid
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CLEVELAND -- Ted Cruz frustrated many Texans with his refusal to endorse Donald Trump at the convention here Wednesday night -- so much so, in fact, that they are considering not supporting him for re-election to the Senate in 2018.

Cruz was booed by his home state delegation during his speech, in which he told Republicans to vote their conscience and support conservatives up and down the ticket, but declined to give his support to Trump. The next morning, at a heated breakfast event for the Texas delegates, Cruz faced question after question from constituents who were upset by his decision.

Some are now hesitant to support Cruz when he seeks a second term, and others have discussed finding another Republican to run against him.

“I’ve already heard some names surface to primary him,” said David Stall, a delegate and chairman of the Fayette County Republican Party. “I’ve heard overwhelmingly today, unanimously, that they’re very unhappy with him and some of them have indicated that they’ll no longer support him for any office."

Robert Stovall, a delegate and chairman of the Bexar County GOP, said he had heard a similar message from a number of his constituents after Cruz’s speech. Stovall said most of the Texas delegation had hoped and expected that Cruz would endorse Trump – Stovall himself had even pre-written a tweet congratulating Cruz and saying Texans were happy he’d endorsed. He had to delete it after Cruz’s remarks to the convention.

Stovall said the message from some delegates was “‘He better [endorse]. I work for him, I block-walk for him in the Houston area, in the Dallas area. …  If he doesn’t [endorse] I won’t vote for him and I’ll never do anything for him again.”

“He let us down,” Stovall said.

Cruz’s problems for his primary may extend beyond just the Texans who were frustrated by his decision. He’s also perhaps the most disliked senator in Washington, highlighted by the fact that almost none of his colleagues endorsed his presidential run even when he became the only viable alternative to Trump. For those officials within the GOP, Cruz’s lack of an endorsement and the harshly negative reaction he received may provide an opening to run another Republican against him.

“It would not surprise me to see a very well organized and well funded establishment Republican try to primary him,” said Reed Galen, a GOP strategist who has worked on multiple presidential campaigns, including with Cruz on George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign. “I don’t know who that is by any stretch, but you can make the argument there are millions’ worth of contributions waiting for that person who they think can legitimately take Ted Cruz out in a primary."

Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Cruz, said in a statement that the senator acknowledges some delegates “might disagree with where he currently stands, but we are encouraged by the many more who have been encouraging and supportive of Sen. Cruz’s commitment to principle. … His proven record will carry him to decisive victory in 2018.”

Cruz won his first election to the Senate with more than 56 percent of the vote, and he won the primary by a similar margin. But Cruz has spent nearly half of his Senate career running for president, and his first re-election battle may prove unexpectedly tough without support from the party.   

And along with the establishment Republicans who may see an opening to defeat Cruz, he could potentially face some retaliation from Trump and his supporters should he win the White House.

"If Trump wins the election in November, he will definitely try to settle this score by throwing the White House behind a primary candidate to run against Cruz,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “If Trump loses, some Republicans will blame Cruz for not being more supportive.  Most Republicans know it’ s bad form to stand on a convention stage and oppose the incoming Republican nominee, so Cruz should prepare for some turbulence when he is up for re-election.”

Cruz, for his part, stood by his decision at the breakfast with the Texas delegation. He told the crowd that the personal attacks from the primary were the reason he no longer felt bound to his pledge to support the nominee, but he remains open to potentially supporting Trump as the election goes forward if the nominee proves able to meet Cruz’s conservative values.

"I am not in the habit of supporting people who have attacked my wife and attacked my father," Cruz said. He later invoked the pledge he signed to support the nominee, saying, “That pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go slander and attack Heidi, then I'm not going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father."

Still, that explanation wasn’t enough for many of the delegates in the room. Ann Kate, from Montgomery, Texas, called Cruz’s decision a “rather selfish act.” She said she hadn’t yet decided whether to support him for re-election, comparing it to her decision regarding Trump this year.

“It depends on who runs against him,” Kate told RCP Thursday afternoon. “It’s the same way with Donald Trump. I’m not enthusiastic supporter of Donald, or I wasn’t, but the alternative is Hillary and that is not going to be what I’m for. So it’s the same with him. Now if there’s a decent opponent, what he did last night will weigh in their favor."

The two names that several delegates mentioned as potential challengers to Cruz were Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former Gov. Rick Perry, though neither has given any indication he intends to run. Most cautioned that it’s extremely early in the process, and too soon to know who might be interested or able to challenge Cruz. Still, if someone with the popularity of Patrick or Perry ran, he or she would make a formidable opponent.

Sichan Siv, an alternate delegate who took the place of Gov. Greg Abbott, who was recovering from serious burns and unable to attend the convention, is a former official from both Bush administrations, including as ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. He told RCP that if Patrick were to challenge Cruz in the primary, he would support him.

“I think Dan Patrick would be an excellent candidate and he’s doing an excellent job for Texas,” Siv said in an interview. “I think he’d be a formidable candidate and a lot of people are going to support him."

He added that while he’d had limited conversations about Cruz’s re-election with other delegates in Cleveland, everyone he had spoken with said they didn’t plan to support the senator for re-election.

“I think he’s going to face a lot of challenges,” Siv said. “I have heard a lot of people already that they’re not going to support him. But I respect his position. If that’s what he wants to face, it’s fine."

The rising frustration and opposition to Cruz was not unanimous within the Texas delegation. Several delegates told RCP they still supported Cruz, and respected his decision not to endorse Trump, citing the personal attacks of the primary race.

"I don't know why people are upset over saying vote your conscience and vote for the Constitution and vote to stop Hillary," delegate Chris Daniel said. "Ted did say we need to unite the party. To me, his message was we do need to vote straight Republican."

Ken Cope, another delegate, said he was disappointed with Cruz after the speech Wednesday, but significantly less so after Cruz spoke Thursday morning. He called Cruz a “man of integrity and honor” and said he thought Trump should apologize for attacking Cruz’s father. He said he would still support the senator, but expressed frustration with the way Cruz’s speech had overshadowed the rest of the convention.

“It’s a distraction,” he said. “We need to focus on the real target, which is we’ve got to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House."

Almost everyone who spoke with RCP expressed caution, saying that Cruz is a formidable opponent with a groundswell of support and the ability to raise enormous sums of money. If someone does challenge him, it would by no means be an easy race. And while there is enormous frustration with him within the Texas delegation, some suggested that things would cool down in the months to come.

Bill Pozzi, a Texas delegate who had previously been supportive of Cruz, said he was “really mad” at the senator for not endorsing Trump, but said he was unsure whether he would support the senator in the future.

“Maybe today, no. Next week, probably,” Pozzi said Thursday. “I’ve got to digest it, see what he told us today. [He] spent about a half-hour with us today in our convention meeting. I’d just have to digest that and talk it over and reshuffle my thoughts. I don’t know, but it pissed me off last night and I’m still kind of pissed today."

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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