When Jeb Bush started publicly flirting with a presidential campaign in 2014, Ted Cruz welcomed him into ring by comparing him to the “pale pastels” on the colorwheel, and the last three failed Republican nominees. Bush returned fire throughout the campaign, saying Cruz “held our democracy hostage” with his involvement in the 2013 government shutdown and, on foreign policy, “modulates his views in the way people expect politicians to do.”
But what a difference The Donald makes. With Donald Trump inching closer to the Republican nomination, Bush and Cruz are putting the ugly past behind them to thwart their mutual nemesis. Bush is backing Cruz's bid for the White House.
The endorsement, announced Wednesday in a statement, won't swing any states for Cruz in the campaign. Instead, its significance is another signal of acceptance from the Republican establishment that had long identified Cruz as the party's problem child.
“Ted is a consistent, principled conservative who has demonstrated the ability to appeal to voters and win primary contests,” Bush said in a statement. “For the sake of our party and country, we must move to overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena, or we will certainly lose our chance to defeat the Democratic nominee and reverse President Obama’s failed policies.”
Bush's endorsement is both surprising, and not.
Cruz had been critical of Bush, and wrote about bad blood with the Bush family in his autobiography. Former President George W. Bush unloaded on the Texas senator during an October fundraiser in Colorado, questioning Cruz's qualifications as a first-term senator and criticizing his alliance, at the time, with Trump. “I just don’t like the guy,” Bush said, according to a Politico report.
George P. Bush, Jeb Bush's son, who backed Cruz's Senate bid in 2012, called Cruz's victory in Iowa an “aberration.”
But Cruz phoned Bush immediately after the former Florida governor quit the race last month. Another brother, Neil Bush, joined Cruz's finance team earlier this month.
Bush, who has long argued that governors make better presidents than senators, shocked his inner circle by floating the possibility of a Cruz endorsement ahead of Florida's March 15 primary, according to a Republican source familiar with the conversation. But he ultimately held off after meeting with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and Cruz.
Bush's decision to back Cruz, like Mitt Romney's acknowledgement that he voted for Cruz in the Utah primary, is another blow for Kasich, who, having won only his home state, is struggling to maintain relevance in the race. The Ohio governor has argued that he'd be the best choice at a contested convention, pointing to polls showing he may be a stronger candidate against Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
The Kasich campaign shrugged off the news. “If he were king-maker, he'd be king,” Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Kasich, said about Bush.
For his part, Cruz said he was “truly honored” by Bush's endorsement.
“Governor Bush was an extraordinary governor of Florida, and his record of job creation and education innovation left a lasting legacy for millions of Floridians,” Cruz said in a statement. “His endorsement today is further evidence that Republicans are continuing to unite behind our campaign to nominate a proven conservative to defeat Hillary Clinton in November, take back the White House, and ensure a freer and more prosperous America for future generations.”
—With assistance from Mark Niquette.