“The reason is simple,” Cruz explained after declining to endorse Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) or any other incumbent. “I think every elected official, including me, owes it to the people, owes it the grass roots, to go and make the case to the grass roots why he or she is representing their interests.”
Cornyn has not drawn any top conservative challengers, but his inner circle is taking the threat of a strong primary challenge seriously. Cornyn responded that he agrees with Cruz that “the only endorsements that matter are those of the Texas voters.” But Cruz’s reluctance to back his colleague threatens to harden the conservative resistance Cornyn has encountered.
Even beyond Texas, Cruz’s silence could embolden conservative activists and groups that boosted him to an unlikely 2012 win to press on against GOP incumbents. In Kentucky, the Club For Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, two groups that supported Cruz, are considering whether to back the primary challenger of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. A handful of other Senate incumbents are also facing some pressure from the political right.
“It’s going to alienate many current senators and establishment Republicans,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said of Cruz’s posture. “But I think he’s already decided that bridge is burnt and he’s not going to try to reconstruct it.”
For Cruz — who has stoked talk about a White House bid by traveling to the early nominating states, releasing his birth certificate and promising to renounce whatever right he has to Canadian citizenship amid questions about whether being born in Canada precludes him from being president — stoking tensions with Republican leaders could prove perilous in the long run. Mounting a successful presidential campaign has required cultivating relationships with party leaders, history has shown.
“There is a risk” in what Cruz is doing, said longtime Texas Republican strategist Bill Miller, who once worked for Cornyn. “The way that the game is played is that if you’re not going to help people in their elections, which are the most intense experiences politicians have in their lives, then you can expect that if you ask for a favor, don’t expect it to be returned.”
Cruz’s rhetoric and actions suggest that he thinks he can build a national following by eschewing the traditional routes to power and emphasizing his loyalty to the most conservative elements of the party.