After a roller-coaster relationship during the primary campaign in which Ted Cruz and Donald Trump went from headlining the anti-Iran Deal protest together as best buddies, to all out war state by the end of the race, to a sort-of “frenemy” relationship by the convention, Ted Cruz has finally endorsed Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president. But according to Cruz, it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. The endorsement comes because as Cruz says 1) he promised he’d endorse the GOP nominee, and 2) Trump isn’t Clinton. The WSJ editorial staff believes Ted Cruz has one thing on his mind in his endorsement, 2020.
What has changed since July is Mr. Trump’s standing in the polls. Then it looked like he could lose in a blowout. Mr. Cruz was positioning himself as the principled conservative who could say he had warned Republicans so he could get a jump on the 2020 nomination. This was the post-convention line from the entire Cruz coterie.
Mr. Cruz’s problem is that the transparent calculation of his Cleveland speech alienated more Republicans than it won over, including many of his major campaign funders and Texas conservatives. Mr. Trump has since made it a close race, so Mr. Cruz risked getting some of the blame if the New Yorker loses. The polls show Mr. Cruz could also face a serious 2018 primary challenge from former Texas Governor Rick Perry or House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul. Friday’s reversal thus looks more like damage repair than political principle.
Mr. Cruz’s machinations won’t matter much in November but they are worth keeping in mind after the election. If Mr. Trump loses, the GOP will have to rebuild from the rubble of a third straight presidential defeat. Mr. Cruz is already planning his 2020 campaign and he will try to cast himself as the only true conservative. The Texan’s shape-shifting regarding Mr. Trump reveals his true political character.