Donald Trump met Thursday on Capitol Hill with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for the first time since their bruising primary battle, and he asked Cruz to speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, which opens July 18. Cruz said he would happily oblige — all without any discussion of whether the Texas senator, who hasn’t said if he will vote for Trump, will endorse the party’s presumptive nominee for president.
The two former rivals met along with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, where Trump had just met with Senate Republicans, after another closed door-meeting at the Capitol Hill Club where Trump addressed and answered questions from Republican members of the House.
Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier issued a short statement after Trump and Cruz met.
“Sen. Cruz and Donald Trump had a good meeting this morning. There was no discussion of any endorsement. Mr. Trump asked Sen. Cruz to speak at the Republican convention, and Sen. Cruz said he would be happy to do so,” said Frazier, who said Trump also asked Cruz for his counsel on judicial nominations.
“I think it’s a positive move for both men and for our party. I’m glad they sat down to talk. By all public accounts they apparently had a good conversation,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told the American-Statesman. Patrick chaired Cruz’s presidential campaign in Texas but enthusiastically introduced Trump at his rally in The Woodlands on June 17.
Diana Denman, a former vice chairwoman of the state party and Cruz delegate from San Antonio, seized on the Trump-Cruz meeting to say what’s been on her mind in recent days — that only a Trump-Cruz ticket can save the party.
“It’s a win-win,” Denman said. Trump can wage the air war, while Cruz, with his grass-roots troops and organization, can prosecute the ground war. “I think the time is right.”
Risks and rewards
The exchange of olive branches between the man Trump branded “Lyin’ Ted,” and the man Cruz described as “utterly amoral,” a “pathological liar” and a “narcissist” nonpareil, carries risks and rewards for each of them.
Trump would draw his most formidable and, in the end, most bitter rival into the tent where he expects to be nominated, appearing in control and magnanimous.
Cruz will have 559 pledged delegates in the Quicken Loans Arena, as well as a few hundred more among the 1,542 delegates who are pledged to Trump but whose heart really belongs to the Texas senator. A convention speech gives Cruz a dramatic, nationally televised opportunity to fan the embers of his campaign and keep the flame of his candidacy and cause alive with an eye to 2020.
For Trump, there is a risk if a renegade effort to unbind delegates in hopes of denying Trump the nomination — mostly engineered by Cruz supporters but without the candidate’s imprimatur — actually gains traction. Trump would face the prospect of offering the stage to a hero of the insurrection.
For Cruz, there is the risk of losing the moral high ground he has claimed by refusing to consort with Trump if he now appears to be abetting him.
“The speech is irrelevant. Trump has what he wants. Cruz looking like he’s compliant. It’s all perceptions,” tweeted Steve Deace, a “never Trump” conservative radio host and die-hard Cruz supporter from Iowa, upon word of the Trump-Cruz agreement.
“Trump doesn’t need a Cruz endorsement,” Deace tweeted. “Just the appearance of one. And if he loses he can say `lyin Ted didn’t keep his oath.’”
On Tuesday, Sondra Ziegler, a Cruz delegate from Lubbock, wrote an open letter to Priebus, insisting delegates are the convention’s “highest authority” and ought to be free to find an alternative nominee to Trump, who she said fills many rank-and-file Republicans with “dread” that he will lead them to a top-to-bottom defeat in the fall.
She headlined her letter, “Dear Chairman Priebus, don’t freak out. We are working to save you from yourself.”
Grant Moody, a Cruz delegate from San Antonio, also announced Tuesday that “a strong majority of voting delegates from Bexar County … are committed to support convention rules confirming that each delegate is able to vote his or her conscience on the party’s nominee for President of the United States. Such rules will allow the convention to select a nominee other than Donald Trump.”
The so-called Free the Delegates movement is being directed by former Cruz partisans in Colorado, and their best hope is winning a quarter of the votes on the Convention Rules Committee to bring a minority report with a “conscience clause” unbinding delegates to the floor.
But U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, dismissed any thoughts that efforts to depose Trump would amount to anything.
“He’s our nominee. We’ll get that done, he’ll name a VP candidate, and we’ll be off and running,” said Williams, adding that Trump helped himself in his hourlong meeting Thursday with House Republicans. “I think he’s going to be a great candidate.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, who has said he will vote for Trump but hasn’t endorsed him, was more tentative.
“Our goal is to get him to have fewer unforced errors,” Flores said. “If you look at the last two or three weeks, the unforced error rate has improved, but he still has some room for improvement.”