FORT WAYNE, Ind. — In the space of just seven minutes here Thursday, Ted Cruz reminded fellow Republicans that he has few friends in the party.
First he tangled with former House speaker John A. Boehner, a longtime foe who so dislikes Cruz that he labeled him “Lucifer in the flesh.” Then Cruz undercut another Republican, fellow presidential candidate John Kasich, who had entered into an alliance with him to stop GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
“There is no alliance,” Cruz told reporters on Thursday, acting as if a pact announced by his own campaign days before had never happened.
Minutes later, Kasich strategist John Weaver dispatched a cryptic tweet: “I can’t stand liars.”
For Cruz, it was just another day of brawling with leading figures from his own party — a role that has formed the cornerstone of his short political career. But for many Republicans, it crystallized an overriding problem for Cruz’s campaign: Many people simply don’t like him.
“Ted Cruz is the political version of liver and onions,” said veteran GOP strategist Ana Navarro. “Some people love it and can’t get enough. And some people gag at the mere thought of it.”
At a moment when he is in urgent need of a Republican army united behind him, Cruz is going into the next Tuesday’s primary here in Indiana with, at best, a platoon. The Republican U.S. senator and House members from Indiana are on the sidelines. However, Cruz got a surprise boost Friday when Gov. Mike Pence endorsed him.
Cruz is trying to shake up the race by picking Carly Fiorina as his running mate, but even as Cruz regularly talks of uniting the party, his prickly relationships with many Republicans have come back to haunt him.
The bad blood extends all the way to corporate boardrooms and fellow Latinos. On Thursday, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest Hispanic business group, took a pass on endorsing Cruz — the only Latino candidate left in the race — and instead backed Kasich and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
For years, Cruz has angered fellow Republicans with his actions in the Senate. His push to shred the federal health-care law led to the 2013 government shutdown. He declined to endorse his GOP colleagues against insurgent primary challengers in 2014, despite holding a leadership position with the GOP committee responsible for reelecting them. He has refused to apologize for calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor — an extraordinary breach of decorum.
Cruz also openly feuded with Boehner, plotting against him with rogue House Republicans in moves that eventually led to Boehner’s ouster.
On Wednesday night, Boehner told a crowd at Stanford University that Cruz is “Lucifer in the flesh” and that he had “never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life,” according to the Stanford Daily.
Boehner also said that he would back Trump if he is the GOP nominee in November — but that he would not vote for Cruz.
Cruz fired back on Thursday, telling reporters that Boehner had allowed “his inner Trump to come out.”
“If you’re happy with John Boehner as speaker of the House and you want a president like John Boehner, then Donald Trump’s your man,” Cruz said.
The senator also said that he has “never had any substantive conversation with John Boehner in any respect.” He served as Boehner’s lawyer in a 1998 lawsuit against a Democratic congressman. The Cruz campaign said his comments were consistent with his work as a junior associate on the case.
The brawling has a direct bearing on Cruz’s inability to stop Trump. Mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination before the Republican National Convention, Cruz now hopes he can keep Trump from getting 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination by winning the Indiana primary. Cruz is also working to elect loyalists to state delegations who can switch sides if Trump fails to win on a first ballot — which would likely thrust the convention into chaos.
Trump has angrily dismissed Cruz’s maneuverings as part of a “rigged” game and routinely derides Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted.”
“He was a failed senator, he couldn’t get anything passed,” Trump said in Warwick, R.I., this week. “All he is is a guy that will go down and stand and filibuster for a day or two. And all the other senators will look: ‘When’s he getting off the floor, Jim? Guy’s a pain in the ass, when’s he getting off the floor?’ ”
Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, echoed Trump’s sentiments. He said in an interview that he was “heartbroken” to not back a Latino candidate. But, he said, “if you look at Ted’s divisive rhetoric about immigrants, it disqualified him from consideration. His inability to work within his own caucus, let alone with Senate Democrats, made it hard for us to consider him. He also pushed for the deportation of up to 12 million people.”
Under Cruz’s pact with Kasich — which was announced separately by both campaigns on Sunday — Kasich effectively stopped competing in Indiana, giving Cruz a one-on-one shot at Trump. In return, Cruz cleared the way for Kasich to compete against Trump alone in Oregon and New Mexico.
The accord went wobbly almost immediately, after Kasich said he still expected his Indiana supporters to vote for him. But Cruz’s remarks on Thursday went further, suggesting there was never much of an agreement at all.
“I recognize that the media is all eager to talk about an alliance. There is no alliance,” Cruz told reporters. “Kasich and I made a determination of where to focus our energy. Where to focus our assets. Where to focus our resources.”
He added: “John Kasich made the decision in his own political self-interest to withdraw from Indiana and go compete elsewhere.”
O’Keefe reported from Washington. Jose A. Del Real in Santa Ana, Calif., contributed to this report.