Ted Cruz has made a switch.
On Wednesday night, the Texas senator became a hero to Trump’s conservative dissenters by refusing to endorse him in his speech at the Republican National Convention. Thus, Cruz established himself as Trump’s most prominent detractor in the GOP, positioning himself as a defender of principle and moral rectitude in a campaign season dominated by name-calling and boorishness.
But it wasn’t always like this. As Cruz himself stated at a breakfast for members of the Texas delegation the next morning, his opposition to Trump isn’t about conservative principles; it’s personal. Through the bulk of the Republican primary contest, Cruz was Trump’s most visible defender. Whether Trump was smearing Mexicans as rapists, calling for an unconstitutional religious test for immigrants, or saying Carly Fiorina had an unpresidential face, Cruz rarely if ever criticized him. Instead, his affection for Trump sparked a host of think pieces on the pair’s alleged bromance, and The Daily Caller even put together a helpful historical timeline of their overtures.
And the Texan’s defense of Trump was deliberate. When Chuck Todd pressed him on Trump’s smears of immigrants during the July 5 episode of Meet the Press, Cruz stood by his mogul.
“I like Donald Trump,” he said. “He’s bold, he’s brash. And I get that—that—that it seems the favorite sport of the Washington media is to encourage some Republicans to attack other Republicans. I ain’t gonna do it. I’m not interested in Republican on Republican violence.”
Trump was public about his gratefulness to Cruz. The pair made a joint appearance on Capitol Hill in September to criticize the Iran nuclear agreement, and couldn’t have been more affectionate.
“I like him. He likes me,” Trump said at the time. “He’s backed me 100 percent. Ted Cruz was out there and he really backed me very strongly, and I always respected that.”
The basis of the entente, of course, was that it served each’s self-interest. Each of them probably believed before the voting started—as many observers did—that the primaries would come down to one of them (representing the right) versus either Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio (representing the establishment). So they played nice for a while because neither wanted to offend the other’s voters.
But trouble emerged in paradise when the New York Times reported on December 10 that Cruz had gently criticized Trump in a closed-door fundraiser. But next day on Twitter, the senator reiterated his Trump fanboy status.
As the primary heated up and Iowa neared, Trump began to see that Cruz was his biggest competition in the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, so things changed. Trump leveled more pointed criticism at Cruz—even going on ABC’s This Week on Jan. 17 to call him “a nasty guy.” Then Cruz pulled off a win in Iowa, and Trump escalated his attacks. But still, Cruz remained cautious, equivocal, and extraordinarily measured in his criticisms of Trump.
During this window of time, by the way, Trump trafficked in semi-literate, xenophobic, misogynist nonsense. That is not an opinion; it is a fact. He called Carly Fiorina’s face unpresidential. He insinuated that Megyn Kelly only grilled him because she was on her period. He said John McCain wasn’t a real war hero. He encouraged rally attendees to “rough up” protesters. He suggested one protester be removed from a rally “on a stretcher.” He said “thousands and thousands” of American Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attacks but the media hid the footage. He said Ben Carson was “pathological,” like a child molester. He said Jewish Republican voters wouldn’t back him because they couldn’t buy him off. He called for a “total and complete” shutdown of Muslim immigration to the U.S. He advocated for torture.
Through it all, Cruz stalwartly refused to condemn Trump. Malign Muslims, Jews, female journalists, female presidential candidates, war heroes? No problem. Cruz didn’t turn on Trump until the mogul tweeted an unflattering photo of his wife, Heidi, and then suggested that his dad was involved in the Kennedy assassination.
Cruz said the morning after his convention speech that that was the reason he was breaking the promise he made at the first debate to support the Republican nominee.
“I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and my father,” he told delegates, explaining his opposition to Trump. “That pledge is not a blanket commitment if you go slander and attack Heidi, I am nonetheless going to come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father.”
“This is not politics,” he added. “Right and wrong matters.”
But right and wrong didn’t matter when Trump was demonizing Muslims and women and journalists with disabilities.