Sen. Ted Cruz spent his political career carefully crafting an image of himself as a principled, conservative lawmaker, unafraid to stand up to the party establishment and high powered donors.
And now no one believes him.
That’s because on Friday, Cruz shattered his carefully cultivated reputation by endorsing Donald Trump, a man who insulted his wife, Heidi, hinted that Cruz himself had numerous mistresses and implied Cruz’s father was part of the Kennedy assassination.
Cruz’s endorsement also marks the latest defection from the ranks of Never Trump, a movement that is slowly capitulating to Trump as Republicans in the long, slow march to Election Day.
“After many months of careful consideration, of prayer and searching my own conscience, I have decided that on Election Day, I will vote for the Republican nominee, Donald Trump,” Cruz wrote on his Facebook page.
Cruz isn’t a politician who acts on a whim. He thinks tactically, measures every move, and makes decisions with extreme caution. When he talks to the press, for example, he will give thought-out quotes that will match quotes he gave an hour later—verbatim.
It’s that calculating nature makes the latest decision so stunning: his actions seem designed to do as much damage to himself as possible.
First, Cruz decided not to endorse Trump during the Republican National Convention, inflicting maximum damage to his support among those who had decided to support the Trump nomination. Now, with less than two months to go before Election Day, he comes around to Trump, inflicting additional damage to his support among conservatives who until now had viewed Cruz as a leading member of the #NeverTrump movement.
Cruz is not alone, and is only the latest member of this movement to waver. The Ricketts family, an influential and wealthy conservative family, spent nearly $6 million this campaign cycle to prevent Trump from winning the nomination. The family will now spend $1 million to back Trump’s campaign for the White House. The website they funded, trumpquestions.com, is still live.
And the Mercer family, also Republican megadonors, began pouring money into an anti-Clinton political action committee and playing a more central role in Trump’s campaign after their $13.5 million investment in Cruz’s super PAC didn’t play out well during the primaries.
Top conservative radio host Mark Levin also threw in the towel. Levin announced earlier this month that he would reluctantly back Trump, citing his belief that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was a greater danger.
Cruz wrote in his Friday Facebook post that his differences with Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court, Obamacare, energy policy, immigration, national security and Internet freedom were all key to his decision to back Trump.
“If Clinton wins, we know—with 100% certainty—that she would deliver on her left-wing promises, with devastating results for our country. My conscience tells me I must do whatever I can to stop that, Cruz wrote.
Cruz’s endorsement has been aided by the Trump campaign’s decision to hire Kellyanne Conway and Jason Miller as senior staff, both of whom previously worked on Cruz’s campaign. Earlier on Friday, Trump released a new list of individuals he would nominate to the Supreme Court if elected president, which included Cruz’s closest friend in the Senate, #NeverTrumper Sen. Mike Lee.
On Wednesday Trump sweetened the deal further by wading into an obscure Internet crusade that Cruz had been waging in the Senate, over the U.S. government’s role in overseeing domain names.
Being second fiddle to Trump is a position Cruz has some familiarity with. Before they were enemies, they were friends. They held a joint event together on the Iran deal during the primaries—Cruz’s strategy at the time was to maintain good relations with Trump, and then swoop in when the businessman’s support collapsed.
The collapse never came. Instead, Cruz maintained an ongoing battle with Trump as among the last candidates standing in the GOP primaries. After attacks on his personal integrity, his wife’s looks and his father’s (non-existent) role in the JFK assassination, Cruz fired back.
During the primaries, Cruz called Trump out as “utterly amoral” and “serial philandering,” “pathological liar,” who was a “sniveling coward” for attacking his wife. And during the Republican National Convention, Cruz notably declined to endorse Trump on the stage, instead telling delegates to vote their conscience.
The stunt was not well received. Delegates began to boo him loudly, until Trump himself walked into the arena, effectively ending Cruz’s speech.
“I am not in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and attacks my father,” Cruz said, defending this decision.
The backlash on social media from Cruz’s (perhaps now former) supporters was reliably brutal. “Go fuck yourself you gutless traitor,” @flametrooper420 tweeted at the senator, with a photo attached of a raised middle finger pointed at a burned Ted Cruz bumper sticker.
“What a sellout,” Greg Gaines, of Cleveland, Georgia, wrote as a comment on Cruz’s Facebook page. “I am ashamed to have supported you. By endorsing him you are endorsing everything he has said about you and so many others… You just lost a voter, Mr. Cruz.”
“I’ve had a Ted Cruz bumper sticker on my car from day one … I’m taking it off of my car right now,” Daniel Pulliam, another ex-fan, commented.
Some of Cruz’s most famous allies in the #NeverTrump movement were also visibly distraught and “profoundly” upset on Friday afternoon.
“Profoundly sad day for me,” conservative radio host Glenn Beck posted on Facebook. “Disappointment does not begin to describe. Maybe it is time to go to the mountains for a while.”
Their disappointment was built on the fact that they had been led for so long to believe that Cruz would hold his ground. There was so much bad blood that after the Republican National Convention that in July Trump said he would not even accept Cruz’s endorsement if it was offered.
But like so many things during this campaign, this pledge was quickly forgotten.
“I am greatly honored by the endorsement of Senator Cruz,” Trump said in a statement in Friday. “We have fought the battle and he was a tough and brilliant opponent. I look forward to working with him for many years to come in order to make America great again.”
—Asawin Suebsaeng contributed reporting.