One week after his campaign for president ended, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, returned to the Senate unready to endorse Donald Trump – and very ready to talk about the next election.
“This battle is about a lot more than one election cycle or one candidate,” Cruz said. “It is about principles that are eternal.”
Pressed on whether he could now back Trump, fulfilling a pledge every candidate had made to back the party’s nominee, Cruz passed on several chances to say yes.
“There will be plenty of time for voters to make the determination of what they will support,” said Cruz. “What I am going to be supporting are free market principles and the constitutional liberties of Americans.”
It was a swaggering and occasionally snarky performance, with several jokes about “the warm embrace of Washington,” before a media scrum that filled the hallway outside Cruz’s Senate office. Like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who quit the race in March, Cruz skipped the reporter-clogged Senate lunches to reintroduce himself on his own terms. Unlike Rubio, he was about to face colleagues who’d resented his elbow-throwing approach and were full of advice about how to fit in.
“Try to be more effective,” advised Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had warned that Cruz would lose a national election and briefly supported him as part of a stop-Trump effort.
“I don’t think he needs or wants advice from me,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., with a laugh, She had called Cruz patronizing during a hearing on gun safety legislation.
Some of Cruz’s Republican colleagues were more diplomatic. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, had been on of Cruz’s favorite pincushions on the trail. On Tuesday, asked about Cruz, McConnell said he was “happy to have him back.”
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who reportedly had told Republicans he’d vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., over Cruz, welcomed a post-campaign Cruz.
“Some people get over [losing], and some people never get over it,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. “I think he’s going to be the same effective leader that he tried to be before.”
Cruz largely disappeared in the days after he conceded the must-win Indiana primary. He was spotted by cameramen at Saturday’s running of the Kentucky Derby, where his wife Heidi informed reporters that there would be no interviews.
He re-emerged fully with a Tuesday morning call-in to Glenn Beck, a conservative host who had endorsed him and campaigned with him through the end. Cruz seemed to surprise the host by indulging speculation on how he could re-start his campaign.
“The reason we suspended the race last week was, with the Indiana loss, I didn’t see a path to victory,” Cruz said. “If that changes, we will certainly respond accordingly.”
Later, in conference call with the campaign’s National Prayer Team, Heidi Cruz suggested that her husband’s movement could endure, and succeed, just as the British abolitionists succeeded in ending slavery.
“Be full of faith and so full of joy that this team was chosen to fight a long battle,” she continued, as first reported by the Texas Tribune. “It took 25 years to defeat slavery. That is a lot longer than four years.”
In both the Beck interview, Cruz argued that the mainstream media had skewed the primaries with coverage of Trump worth “over $3 billion” of in-kind donations.
“This election will be studied for the role of the media, and in particular network executives,” Cruz told Beck. “They have chosen the candidate they wanted to win.”
And in the hallway, the senator refashioned parts of his campaign stump speech to explain how he would continue his fights in the Senate.
“The people who I am fighting for are single moms, and young people, and Hispanics, and African-Americans,” he said. “It’s the truck drivers, the welders, and the coal miners.”
Cruz, who has the power to hold up several pieces of key legislation, did not get questions about which he might focus on. But after some prodding, he admitted he was “humbled” to lose the primary.
“I am certainly disappointed with the outcome, that I disappointed so many millions of grassroots activists,” he said. “My greatest disappointment is that I wasn’t able to win for them. That I came up short, and disappointed their efforts, their time, their passion. That was incredible to see.”
Cruz turned back to the topic of how that movement could grow and win, prompting reporters to ask if he’d been serious when he told Beck that a sudden event – perhaps a win in one of the remaining primaries – could get him back into the primary.
“If circumstances change, we will always assess changed circumstances,” said Cruz. “I appreciate the eagerness and excitement of all the folks in the media to see me back in the ring. But you may have to wait a little bit longer.”
Cruz turned and walked into his Senate office, where the cheers echoed from outside the door.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · David Weigel