Politics & Policy

Cruz Prepares for High-Stakes Convention Speech with Eye on 2020

(Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
By speaking at Trump’s convention without endorsing him, the Texas senator hopes to placate both sides of the GOP civil war.

Cleveland — When Ted Cruz takes the stage here on Wednesday evening, what he doesn’t say will be as important as what he does: Though he accepted a primetime speaking spot at the convention that officially nominated Donald Trump on Tuesday, Cruz will not endorse the Republican nominee, according to two sources familiar with his plans.

The Texas senator has largely kept a low profile since exiting the presidential race in May, but he will be front and center on Wednesday. His speech will serve both as a formal reintroduction to millions of party faithful, the majority of whom did not support Trump in the primaries, and as the first public step in another presidential campaign. So while Trump uses Cruz’s appearance to project a semblance of party unity, the Texas senator will do his part to underscore the deep divisions in the GOP on the eve of Trump’s coronation — and to suggest tacitly that he, not Trump, is the face of the party’s future.

Going into tomorrow night’s speech, Cruz undoubtedly has Ronald Reagan’s 1976 convention speech in mind. Though Reagan narrowly lost the nomination to Gerald Ford that year, his speech succeeded in convincing the delegates gathered in Kansas City that they had chosen the wrong man. (Paul Manafort, now Trump’s campaign chairman, was at the time a young operative instrumental in wrangling delegates on Ford’s behalf.)

But Reagan endorsed Ford.

It’s a bold move. Nonetheless, Cruz is here in Cleveland, unlike many of other 2016 candidates. Marco Rubio will address the convention by video conference. John Kasich is in a state of open warfare with the Trump campaign. The Texas senator’s decision to attend and speak without endorsing the Republican nominee appears to be aimed at straddling the Republican establishment he has so gleefully bashed and the conservative base that elected him.

Are we seeing a new Ted Cruz?

There’s evidence of it. He would have thrilled many conservatives by becoming the face of the anti-Trump movement, which rages on even as Trump prepares to accept the nomination. But while a push to unbind convention delegates — bitterly opposed by Reince Priebus and his allies — gained and then lost momentum, in part because it lacked a visible leader, Cruz kept quiet. And he made no plans to release the hundreds of delegates he amassed on the campaign trail, and who are now obliged to cast ballots for him on the convention floor.

#share#Then there are the rules governing the Republican primary contests and the Republican National Committee more broadly, which Cruz ally Ken Cuccinelli is pushing to change. Cruz and his team have kept a studious distance from Cuccinelli, denying any role in his efforts, which include demands to incentivize the closing of the first four nominating contests to independents and Democrats. Nonetheless, Cuccinelli and Cruz have common interests, and those backing Cuccinelli were mostly Cruz delegates. According to Randy Evans, a long-time member of the Republican National Committee and a member of this year’s convention rules committee, “part of” Cuccinelli’s goal is “to make the RNC more malleable to a Cruz campaign in 2020.”

There is evidence, too, of changes in Cruz’s legislative approach — a shift to what some of his Senate colleagues have begun calling “Cruz 2.0.” He sided with Arizona senator John McCain and against Utah senator Mike Lee last month, for example, voting in favor of an amendment that would have allowed the FBI to access Internet browsing histories without a court order. Until now, in battles between privacy and security, Cruz has almost always sided with libertarians, favoring privacy rights over security concerns. He joined Rand Paul in his 2014 filibuster protesting the Obama administration’s claim that it had the right to assassinate American citizens in the United States, and applauded Paul’s filibuster of the National Security Agency’s bulk-data collection, though he didn’t join it.

“He has shifted towards the Cotton-Rubio position and away from the Rand-Lee one on a number of . . . issues,” says a senior Senate aide, referring to the divide between the hawkish national-security positions of Rubio and Arkansas senator Tom Cotton and the relatively more dovish stances of Paul and Lee.

On the campaign trail, Cruz was fond of quoting Reagan’s admonition to “paint in bold colors.” He remains as ambitious as ever, but he has a more nuanced approach. It’s clear he would like for Trump to win the nomination and lose in November, making way for him to run again in 2020. And he will walk off the stage on Wednesday in the position to tell the GOP’s anti-Trump faction that he never endorsed the man they believe is destroying the party, while claiming to the party establishment that he was a team player.

#related#Behind the scenes in Cruz world, the gears, as always, are turning. In recent months, they have moved to transform his presidential campaign into an electoral enterprise that will continue to hum for the next four or eight years. National Review reported earlier this month that several senior Cruz campaign staffers are creating two affiliated non-profit groups, a 501(c)3 and a 501(c)4, that will champion Cruz’s legislative priorities, maintain and expand his donor database, and coordinate his travel to early states. The longtime political strategist David Polyansky is taking the helm in Cruz’s Senate office as the senator’s current chief of staff, Paul Teller, decamps to take a senior position with the non-profits.

So Ted Cruz will run for president again. Defeat may have changed his tactics, but it has not changed the man.

— Eliana Johnson is National Review’s Washington editor.

EDITOR’s NOTE: This article has been updated since its original publication. 

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