Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ended his presidential campaign Tuesday, eliminating the biggest impediment to Donald Trump's march to the Republican nomination.
The conservative tea party firebrand who tried to cast himself as the only viable alternative to Trump ended his campaign after a stinging defeat in Indiana's Republican primary.
"It appears that path has been foreclosed," Cruz told supporters in Indianapolis. "Together, we left it all on the field of Indiana. We gave it everything we've got, but the voters chose another path, and so with a heavy heart but with boundless optimism for the long-term future of our nation, we are suspending our campaign."
Had he succeeded in his quest, Cruz would have been the first U.S. president of Hispanic descent, although he often downplayed his heritage on the campaign trail, instead, touting the need for tougher immigration laws, for a border wall along the border with Mexico, protecting gun rights, repealing President Barack Obama's health care law and instituting a flat tax.
Cruz argued he was the only true conservative in the race, building on his reputation in the Senate where he clashed both with Democrats and members of his own party over his ideological stubbornness. Cruz railed against what he called the "Washington cartel," trying to appeal to an electorate that is craving political outsiders.
But he ultimately couldn't compete with Trump's appeal among white, working class voters who were drawn to the billionaire's outlandish approach to politics.
Cruz's campaign placed its hopes on a data-driven effort to turn out conservative evangelical Christians who had opted out of recent presidential elections. Increasingly, he would modify his travel schedule to go where data showed there might be pockets of untapped supporters.
With the scale tipping increasingly in Trump's favor, he announced an extraordinary pact in April with his other rival, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, in which the two would divide their time and resources based on states where they were each poised to do better.
Days later, he prematurely named former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina as his running mate, hoping it would woo some of the female voters turned off by Trump's brash rhetoric.
Trump's appeal to evangelicals, though, and the New York billionaire's popularity with the broader Republican electorate, proved too much.
Cruz was joined on stage with his parents, as well as by Fiorina and his wife, Heidi.
He made no mention of the Republican front-runner, vowing instead to continue his fight for liberty and for the Constitution.
Cruz rose in the presidential race by painting Republican leaders as sellouts and insisting only he had the courage to fight a broken system. Those same elites returned the favor by snubbing him when it mattered most, refusing to rally the party behind him and all but ensuring that Donald Trump will be the nominee after winning Indiana.
"What goes around comes around in politics," said Ron Bonjean, a former senior aide to several congressional Republican leaders. "It's very clear he's dug his own grave. And he'll have to live with that. By taking a flamethrower to the Senate floor he ended up burning himself in the process."
Brian Walsh, a former Republican leadership aide who worked for Senator John Cornyn, Cruz's home-state colleague, said the presidential hopeful has "gone out of his way to make so many enemies that when he needs allies they're not there."
"His own arrogance has contributed to where he is today," Walsh said. "His colleagues, especially in recent weeks, have been looking for a reason to support him despite the past history, and even now he won't meet them halfway."
Indeed, several Republican leaders have made their deepest marks on the Republican presidential race by voicing opposition to the Texas firebrand.
'Lucifer In The Flesh'
Former House Speaker John Boehner last week called Cruz "Lucifer in the flesh" and the most "miserable son of a bitch" he has ever worked with. Former Senator Judd Gregg termed Cruz a "demagogue’s demagogue" who he'd never back. Republican luminaries Trent Lott and Bob Dole have also indicated they prefer Trump over Cruz. Ex-rival Marco Rubio called Cruz "the only one" who fits his preference of nominating a conservative, though he stopped short of endorsing him after dropping out in mid-March. Vast swaths of GOP financiers never warmed up to Cruz, despite endorsements from several former presidential rivals.
"He's not a fan favorite. I don't know anyone that raves about him. There's not one person that says to me, 'You’ve gotta meet this guy, you're gonna like him,'" said Brian Ballard, a major Republican donor based in Florida who supported Jeb Bush in the primary and raised money for past nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney.
Ballard described electability as another factor. "I just never really thought that Cruz was a viable person. I don't think he's got the type of draw to win a general election," he said. "I think he's a divider. I don't have any desire to be helpful to him."
A palpable anger overcame Cruz on Tuesday morning as he ripped into Trump as a "pathological liar," "narcissist," "bully" and a "serial philanderer," after Trump linked his father to John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, echoing a conspiracy theory that lacks evidence. America is "staring at the abyss" with a potential Trump nomination, Cruz told reporters, and "it is only Indiana that can pull us back." A CNN poll Monday found that 91 percent of Republicans believe Trump will be their nominee.
Rick Tyler, a former communications director for the Cruz campaign, had choice words for GOP establishment figures who snubbed him. "Small, petty and petulant," he said. "It's got to be personal because I don't understand which issues he's running on that they're not going to be able to work with a President Cruz on."
Cost of Breaking Out
With victories in Iowa and on Super Tuesday, Cruz solidified his standing as the only Republican competitive with Trump, disproving skeptics who likened him to past one-hit-wonders Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who won Iowa and flamed out. But that has only intensified the animosity of some foes. Representative Peter King called Cruz a "fraud and a hoax" for leading an effort to defund Obamacare that culminated in the 2013 government shutdown.
The shutdown failed to make a dent in the health care law, but it turned Cruz into a national hero among conservatives. And he took advantage of it. In subsequent battles such as blocking President Barack Obama’s immigration policies and shutting the Export-Import Bank, Cruz embraced hardline positions and portrayed his colleagues as cowardly when they acquiesced to cutting a deal with Democrats to prevent disruptions to the basic functions of government.
A former congressional GOP aide who had a front-row seat to Cruz's political warfare and spoke on condition of anonymity said the Texan staked out positions he knew were impossible for the party to sustain, and sought to position himself as a conservative martyr when those fights were lost.
"In the effort to build his personal legend," the former aide said, Cruz "fanned the flames among the base" that congressional Republicans were too afraid to fight, and thereby inflated expectations of what conservatives could achieve with Obama in office.
That personal legend of Cruz’s presidential bid, which promised to combine ideological purity with a fighting spirit to upend a corrupt establishment. It helped him with a GOP base that feels abandoned by its own leaders. The downside is the Texan is so isolated in the Senate he has for routinely-granted procedural motions such as a "sufficient second" on a roll call vote. Still, he has refused to for remarks such as accusing McConnell of telling "a flat-out lie" on the Senate floor in 2015.
"That ain't gonna happen," Cruz said last month on CNN about the prospect of reconsidering an apology to McConnell. "And if the Washington lobbyists want to see that happen, they can hold their breath a long, long time." It revealed the Texan's paradox: maintaining enemies imposes limits on his base of support, but making nice with party leaders risks undercutting his core appeal. Cruz's attack has boomeranged on him as Trump's derisive "Lyin' Ted" moniker has stuck.
Cruz's narrow appeal left him little room for error among his base of very conservative and evangelical voters. His net favorable rating among Republicans has fallen by a whopping 52 points since January—including by 21 points in the month of April as Trump gained 12, according to Gallup's tracking poll.
A campaign that began with a house-by-house victory in Iowa couldn't prevent Trump from piercing Cruz's "Southern firewall" in the coming weeks with victories in South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. While Cruz went on to rack up wins in smaller states, caucuses and GOP conventions, Trump's lead was never challenged, and he expanded it later in the delegate-rich Northeast, Rust Belt and states spanning Florida to Arizona.
"If you look back on it, Ted Cruz may have lost this in South Carolina as much as any place else," said Ken Goldstein, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and a polling analyst for Bloomberg Politics. "If you're going to be a factional candidate—the candidate of Southern, very conservative Republicans, you better win Southern, very conservative states."
Wisconsin, the high-water mark of Cruz's campaign, indicated he could transcend his core base when party elites were behind him. Enjoying enthusiastic support from Governor Scott Walker and the state’s vibrant conservative activist and talk-radio community, Cruz swept voters there across sex, age, education attainment, income, and even won Trump's strong-suit of "somewhat conservative" voters, according to exit polls. Cruz celebrated the victory as a "turning point" that would stop Trump.
Cavalry Isn't Coming
But Indiana suggests Wisconsin was an outlier. The Hoosier State's large share of evangelical and conservative voters failed to propel Cruz to victory as he lacked a strong network to broaden support. Governor Mike Pence waited until four days before the primary to announce his support for Cruz, but the announcement was tepid and muddled as Pence also praised Trump in the same interview. Cruz received zero endorsements from Indiana’s eight-member Republican congressional delegation.
Cruz's nearly three-dozen House endorsements, many in the Texas delegation, were like-minded conservatives who lacked the ability to broaden his appeal. The House Freedom Caucus, a bloc of influential conservatives who share Cruz's ideology and goals, broadly prefers him to Trump. But the group steered clear of the race because Trump is popular in its members' deep-red districts, according to people with knowledge of its decision-making.
Cruz himself played nice with Trump early in the race, which some Republicans believe was a strategic blunder. He met and posed with Trump at Trump Tower in July; he appeared with him at a rally in Washington; in December he Trump as "terrific." The niceties ended in early January when Trump, polling strong nationally and hoping to leapfrog Cruz in Iowa, questioned whether Cruz's birth in Canada makes him eligible to be president.
"Damned if he doesn't wake up every morning and say 'God, why did I kiss this guy's ass for a year?' I thought it was terrible political judgment," said Rick Wilson, a Florida-based GOP strategist who has vowed never to support Trump. "I know it matters to a lot of the donor community" that Cruz didn't take him on at the time, he added.
Between his smashing defeats in New York and other Northeastern states in April, the remarkably steady Cruz began to show signs of desperation. He cut a deal with rival John Kasich in which the Ohio governor would not campaign in Indiana and Cruz would not campaign in Oregon or New Mexico (a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found that a majority of Indiana GOP voters disapproved of it). Last Wednesday, a day after Trump's five-state sweep, Cruz made the unusual move of announcing a running mate, Carly Fiorina, amid dimming prospects.
In a new SurveyUSA poll of California, the largest delegate pool left on the map, and a state where Fiorina won a statewide Senate primary in 2010, Cruz trails Trump by 34 points. The Golden State officially wraps up the Republican primary on June 7.
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