Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential hopes – and his guarantee for a future White House bid – ended with a chaotic thud Monday as the party’s attention turns to Mike Pence and a growing list of other aspiring Republican leaders.
Cruz’s forces had hoped that Republican convention delegates would prevail in changing the rules so that delegates could bolt from presumptive nominee Donald Trump. They speculated that Trump would fall short of the total in delegates he needed – and Cruz, a senator from Texas and the nominating season’s runner-up, would ascend.
Cruz had spent much of the primary and caucus season wooing delegates, figuring that though they were bound to Trump on a first ballot, they would be free to back him on a second vote.
Trump, though, is expected to win the nomination Tuesday with a solid first-ballot majority. Calling the roll of the states on Tuesday afternoon is added insurance. The nomination is traditionally decided Wednesday night; the timing denies “never Trump” forces more time to agitate.
Once Trump is nominated, the focus will turn to Pence, the running mate who will be Wednesday’s night main attraction. While his résumé is known among conservative activists, they’re eager to see whether he’s an instant 2020 or 2024 presidential front-runner.
“He just vaulted to the top of the list,” said John Steward, a Monroe, North Carolina, delegate.
One reason: “It’s all about name ID, and he’s very much on the national radar,” said DeLinda Ridings, a Columbia, South Carolina, delegate.
He’s moved past Cruz, in my opinion.
DeLinda Ridings, a Columbia, S.C., Republican convention delegate
Another plus: His gentle demeanor is a welcome contrast to the often-abrasive Cruz. “Cruz is too assertive. Everything had to be his way,” said Kelly Procter-Pierce, a Fort Smith, Arkansas, Trump delegate who had considered backing Cruz earlier this year.
Cruz forces and other “never Trump” delegates tried Monday to reignite his campaign but the attempt ended with a loud, raucous floor skirmish. Supporters of unbinding the delegates forced a roll call vote, then some backstage arm-twisting quickly ended it.
Cruz remains reluctant to embrace Trump. His forces are hoping for a rousing reception when he speaks Wednesday night.
But he’s speaking before Pence accepts the vice presidential nomination, and in the GOP convention news releases, Cruz is not a headliner.
The Texas senator is undeterred. “Most wars are not won in a single battle,” he told Politico’s “Off the Message” podcast. “What I’m looking forward to is changing the course this country is on. I don’t know if that happens in this election cycle or not.”
Though Cruz has devoted supporters, some also say it’s time to move on.
“He’s our senator and we love him,” said Sheila Faske, a Cruz delegate from Rose City, Texas. “But we have a nominee.”
We haven’t heard from Ted Cruz yet. I don’t think he’s peaked.
Brita Horn, Routt County, Texas, Republican delegate
Stephen Brown, a Simpsonville, South Carolina, attorney, was part of the “never Trump” movement and a vocal advocate of unbinding delegates. “In 2020 I don’t know who I’ll support,” he said.
What the Cruz brigade is counting on is that should Trump lose, the Republican Party would be prime for Cruz to shape its future. He has the financial and political network and, historically, second presidential runs are smoother.
Cruz, however, needs to decide whether he wants to remain a party renegade or a regular.
“The media keeps going off on Cruz,” said Sue Cleveland, a Beaumont, Texas, delegate. “I hear people say, ‘Cruz gives me the creeps.’ That’s because the media reports that.”
But other supporters cite the strategy of Ronald Reagan, who challenged President Gerald Ford in 1976 for the Republican nomination and narrowly lost. He then worked with fellow Republicans and won the nomination four years later.
“He needs to be a team player,” said Ron Fitzwater, a Lake Tahoe, Nevada, delegate. “He can’t continue to throw bombs and denigrate the current ticket.”
Cruz will be facing a lengthening roster of future Republican stars. While Pence is poised to lead the pack, there’s also House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Each is 46 or younger. All are speaking at the convention; all are expected to praise the Trump-Pence ticket.
“Cruz is out of the picture,” figured state Sen. Mae Beavers of Tennessee. “I just think this year was his chance.”