He’s trading emails with Mitt Romney. Adding Bushes to his finance team. Winning over Lindsey Graham.
As he emerges as the chief alternative to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz is experiencing a twist of fate no one could have seen coming a year ago: His presidential bid is drawing the attention — and support — of a Republican establishment he has built his political career railing against.
Of course, desperate times call for desperate measures, and many Republicans are searching for a way — any way — to keep Trump from reaching the White House.
That has led a not-insignificant number of them to Cruz, who has racked up more delegates and victories against Trump than his two other rivals combined.
It’s a largely welcome development for the Texas senator, though it raises a question that gets to the heart of his candidacy: What happens when the so-called “Washington cartel” has no choice but to support its fiercest opponent?
“As the field narrows more and more, we’re getting closer to a two-man race. As we get closer to it, we will welcome the support of everyone,” Cruz told reporters Monday after an event in Florence, Mississippi. “When people come and support us, we welcome them to our team. My positions remain the exact same as the day we launched this campaign, the exact same as they were the day I entered the U.S. Senate.”
The latest evidence of the trend came Tuesday, when Cruz’s campaign announced 13 new members of its national finance team. One pair of names stood out in particular: Neil and Maria Bush, the brother and sister-in-law of former Republican candidate Jeb Bush.
Since Bush exited the race two weeks ago, Cruz’s campaign has won the support of some of the former Florida governor’s top donors and fundraisers, especially in Texas. He announced Thursday six of them were joining his national finance team, a group that included Paul Dickerson of Houston, Charles Foster of Houston, Paula and Jim Henry of Midland and Nancy and Randy Best of Dallas.
Foster, an attorney who specializes in immigration, said he was not expecting to immediately back another candidate after Jeb Bush bowed out. But then he got a call from Cruz, a friend dating back to Cruz’s days working on George W. Bush‘s 2000 presidential campaign.
After thinking it over, Foster came to the conclusion that Cruz is hoping many other Republicans are reaching: The Texas senator is “really the only vehicle left to stop Donald Trump.”
“Clearly, I think people are rallying around Ted precisely because he may only be the only person left who has a viable path to stop a President Trump,” Foster said. “I think everybody thought Rubio was going to fulfill that role, and Rubio has underperformed.”
Earlier Tuesday, Cruz confirmed reports that 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney has offered his help in the fight against Trump. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, had already recorded robocalls to boost two of Cruz’s rivals, John Kasich and Marco Rubio, in some of the states that vote Tuesday.
“We’ve been in conversations with Gov. Romney,” Cruz told reporters before a rally in Raleigh. “He’s very graciously reached out to our campaign, and I’ve talked to him on the phone. We’ve been trading emails with him, and I’m grateful for the support we’re receiving from leaders all across the country.”
Of course, as Cruz widens his support under the Republican umbrella, he runs the risk of alienating those who have long supported him as a crusading pariah within his own party. There are few signs of that so far.
“You’re going to need to have these people supporting if you were the nominee, anyway,” said Steve Deace, a prominent radio host in Iowa who helped Cruz win the caucuses there a month ago. “You haven’t seen him water down or change anything that he believes in order to appeal to a wider swath of people.”
Deace added: “For years, the establishment has told people like me you need to unify behind a moderate. Now it is time for them to unify behind a conservative.”
This is not the first point in the race in which Cruz has been confronted with the potential of the Republican establishment rallying around him. As he was riding high in the polls two months ago in Iowa, Cruz fielded at least one question from a reporter about the irony of him becoming the “GOP establishment’s best hope to beat Donald Trump.”
“You know, I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about the GOP establishment one way or the other,” Cruz responded, chuckling. “I don’t worry what this consultant or that pollster or that talking head pundit in Washington says as they talk to each other round and round in a circle.”
The drumbeat to consolidate behind Cruz has reached a new volume since Super Tuesday. As the results came in late Tuesday night, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham — a longtime Cruz critic who joked five days earlier about the murder of his Senate colleague — conceded the GOP “may be in a position where we have to rally around Ted Cruz as the only way to stop Donald Trump.”
“I appreciated Lindsey saying that, and Lindsey and I have disagreements on policy issues, on some tactics,” Cruz told reporters the next day before a rally in Overland Park, Kansas. “But I do think Lindsey is acknowledging the simple realities of this race. If we’re going to beat Donald Trump, the field can’t remain fractured.”
Since his remarks on Super Tuesday, Graham has appeared to grow more comfortable with the idea of Cruz as the GOP standard-bearer. After Cruz split four contests Saturday with Trump, Graham said the following day that the Texas senator “has made the best case so far that he can be the alternative to Trump.”