HOLLIS, N.H. -- Picking up his bus tour after a failed Senate vote on refugee policy, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) used new, critical comments from the GOP's 1996 presidential nominee to rekindle his argument with Donald Trump.
"Right now the establishment is abandoning Marco Rubio," said Cruz. "They're making the assessment that Marco can't win this race, and the Washington establishment is rushing over to support Donald Trump. We're seeing that every day. And Mr. Trump is welcoming the support of the Washington establishment."
The source of Cruz's happy outrage was an interview former Kansas senator Robert J. Dole gave to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman. Dole, a frequent and gleeful Cruz critic, issued a series of indictments that synced up perfectly with the candidate's message.
"I don’t know how often you’ve heard him say the word ‘Republican’ — not very often," said Dole, suggesting that Trump could "probably work with Congress, because he’s, you know, he’s got the right personality and he’s kind of a deal-maker."
Cruz took that as an invitation to restate his critique of his party, saying that he had raised $700,000 since "Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad took a shot at all of the conservatives uniting behind me" over his opposition to the renewable fuel standard. (Cruz favors phasing it out and lifting restrictions on the amount of ethanol that can be blended in marketable fuel.)
"Indeed, Mr. Trump said that they should support him, because -- he said -- 'Ted won't go along to get along. He won't make deals with the Democrats.' Well, I don't think there are a lot of Republicans who think the problem with Republican leadership is that they won't make deals with the Democrats."
When it was pointed out that Dole had not endorsed Trump, and had instead (with fanfare) backed Jeb Bush, Cruz kept firing, using almost the same language he'd given Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray in an interview about the Branstad endorsement.
"We are seeing more and more the establishment calling out their support for Donald Trump," he said in Hollis. "Look, Donald Trump was very candid. On the Sunday shows recently, seven months ago, he said he was the establishment. Well, that hasn't changed. There's a reason the establishment is attracted to Donald Trump."
Cruz's framing of politics as a battle between the grass roots and a hydra-headed "establishment" dates back to his successful 2012 Senate bid. In early polling, one of the results that jumped out to Cruz and his team was that even a supermajority of Republican voters -- 80 percent -- had a negative opinion of their party in Washington.
It wasn't immediately clear which of Trump's logorrheic TV interviews Cruz was referring to. The real estate mogul-turned-candidate had often defended his donations to Democrats, his praise for Hillary Clinton, and his other deviations from Republican orthodoxy by saying he was a businessman who only recently became a politician.
He's been more consistent in attacking "the establishment" in terms similar to Cruz. The senator, who has referred to Dole, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Mitt Romney as Republicans who "painted in pale pastels" and blew national elections, lost a day of the less-establishment-than-thou contest when former Alaska governor Sarah Palin endorsed Trump. Dole's characterization of Cruz as a "conservative," not a loyal "Republican," was exactly the sort of pivot the senator was looking for.
"It is exactly right that in terms of who I am, I am a Christian first," said Cruz. "I am an American second. I'm a conservative third. And I'm a Republican fourth. And I'll tell ya, there are a lot of Americans who feel the same way."