In the days since his campaign for president ended — indeed, in the Indiana concession speech that ended it — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has continued to talk like a candidate. He used much of a news conference on Capitol Hill to restate the "jobs, freedom, security" themes of his campaign, and he ended it by hinting strongly that he'd run again. In interviews with Texas Monthly and the Texas Tribune, Cruz pointedly declined to endorse Trump and described his campaign as more of a movement.
"I think it is important that the Republican Party remain a conservative party, that we stand for principles and values that we not become neither hot nor cold but simply lukewarm," Cruz told the Tribune, “and I’m going to do everything I can to empower and motivate courageous conservatives across the country to ensure that that’s the case.”
On Monday, Cruz's campaign sent supporters a video tribute to itself, with footage of the operative, spokesmen and volunteers who gave the better part of a year to him. There's even a shot of Rick Tyler, the well-liked spokesman who was asked to leave the campaign in February after he shared a video of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that had been misleadingly labeled to make the senator sound as if he was attacking the Bible.
"We literally did every single thing we could do," says Cruz's campaign manager, Jeff Roe, in the video. "Ted Cruz didn't lose. Our campaign for president lost."
Cruz himself appears in the video giving an emotional pep talk to his staff, limning it with references to the future. "Ronald Reagan, in 1976, came up short," said Cruz, referring to the insurgent campaign that led to Reagan's eventual nomination. "I suspect, at that convention, there were a few tears shed ... 20, 30, 40 years from now, the people in this room, the people across this country, will say: I was proud I was part of this."
The video also continues the theme of Cruz's post-campaign rhetoric: that nothing about his message needs to change. The 2016 primary season, already, is described as a fluke where Cruz outworked everyone but an out-of-control media anointed Donald Trump.
"This primary election, despite my very best efforts, didn’t hinge on policy," Cruz told the Texas Tribune. "It didn’t hinge on any particular policy position, rather it was decided on other factors."
In the Texas Monthly interview, as reporter Erica Grieder noted, Cruz diverted a question about whether he could back Trump by saying he would support a hypothetical candidate who met his standards — "who will fight to reduce the burdens of the federal government on small businesses, which create two-thirds of all new jobs; who will reduce taxes and dramatically simplify the tax code; who will repeal Obamacare; who will protect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — religious liberty, the Second Amendment, the Tenth Amendment — and keep our country safe."
Cruz said basically the same thing in his speech to the Texas Republican convention, where he was welcomed as a hero, and retold a story the delegates knew very well about an unknown Texas lawyer who dared to be a senator. He never mentioned Trump, by name or by reputation. His most fiery moments came when reacting to the brand-new Obama administration order instructing schools to let transgender students used the bathrooms of the gender they identify with.
"Secure the borders, deliver the mail, and keep us safe — that’s it," Cruz said of the role of government. "There is nothing in the Constitution that gives the president the power to be the bathroom police for this country."
That same weekend, the Texas GOP added not one, but two planks to its platform clarifying that the party opposed allowing people to use any bathroom that did not comport with their gender at birth. Texas Republicans had been deeply conservative before Cruz arrived; whether or not Trump wins the presidency, a Republican who appeals to these voters is poised to win the state party's future. Cruz's allies see no gain in him endorsing the party's nominee, but an obvious advantage in him remaining consistent. A hypothetical 2020 campaign, without Trump in the White House, could be predicated on the same argument Cruz made this year: The party loses when it dismisses true conservatism.
"It’s rare in politics to be politically rewarded for doing the most principled thing, but that is the case here for Cruz," wrote Steve Deace, a Des Moines radio host who became one of Cruz's earliest and most visible endorsers. "It will be much easier for him to win over people mad at him for not 'unifying' later than it would be to reunify his base if he were to endorse."