Cruz leaves door open for return

Live: Former Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to reporters as he returns to the Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 10, 2016.
Live: Former Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to reporters as he returns to the Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. AP

Will Ted Cruz re-enter the GOP presidential race?

The Texas senator is apparently willing. On Tuesday, Cruz, who suspended his campaign last week after a lopsided defeat in Indiana, told radio host Glenn Beck, a supporter of his, that he wasn’t “holding his breath” about doing so well in Tuesday’s Nebraska primary that he would restart his campaign. Good thing, because he didn’t. Donald Trump won again.

But he didn’t close the door, either.

“We launched this campaign intending to win. The reason we suspended our campaign was that with the Indiana loss, I felt there was no path to victory,” he told Beck.

“If that changes, we will certainly respond accordingly.”

Later in the day, after arriving at his Senate office in Washington from Texas, Cruz told reporters that “we have withdrawn from the campaign.” He said he expected to lose Nebraska but he repeated that he would restart the campaign if he saw a path to winning the nomination.

But he was more equivocal on the timing. “You may have to wait a little bit longer to make that happen,” he said, sounding like he was looking toward a 2020 campaign. Cruz also ruled out a third-party bid, which some #NeverTrump forces have been promoting to deny front-runner Donald Trump the presidency.

Trump last week won Indiana, where Cruz had made a last stand, with 53.3 percent of the votes, compared with Cruz’s 36.6 percent. When Cruz suspended his campaign, he had won 564 delegates, whom he has not freed to vote for another candidate. Trump had won 1,068 delegates, with 1,237 needed for the nomination.

Thirty-six delegates were won by Trump in Nebraska’s winner-take-all election. West Virginia, which also had a primary Tuesday, has 34 delegates, and Trump won those, too.

Cruz would not endorse Trump when Beck asked him about the New York businessman. “This is a choice every voter is going to have to make. I would note, it’s not a choice we as voters have to make today,” Cruz said.

Cruz’s campaign communications director, Alice Stewart, played down the idea of a restart.

“I encourage you to listen to the interview,” she told the Star-Telegram. “He and Heidi were blessed to have had the opportunity to run. The conservative movement is alive and well. He continues to stay committed to fight for conservative causes. That’s the takeaway from the Glenn Beck interview.”

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said, “It is hard for a politician to step out of the spotlight. This seems like a bid to remain relevant at the convention.”

Candidates that suspend and then restart presidential campaigns rarely do well. In recent history, independent candidate Dallas billionaire H. Ross Perot dropped out of the 1992 race in the summer only to re-enter it months later. He wound up winning 19 percent of the vote.

Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., suspended his campaign for the 1988 Democratic nomination in May 1987 after reports of an extramarital liaison and restarted the campaign seven month later. He never regained momentum.

As Cruz returned to the Senate on Tuesday, fellow Republican senators were either supportive or resigned to Trump being their party’s standard-bearer.

Trump plans to travel to the Capitol on Thursday to meet with Republican senators and House members, especially House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who has withheld his endorsement.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who last week issued a statement expressing lukewarm support for Trump, seemed more upbeat about Trump’s prospects in November.

“It looks to me, at the beginning of the race, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania look pretty competitive,” he said.

McConnell cited a Quinnipiac University poll, released Tuesday, that showed Trump in dead heats in those three states against Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee. President Barack Obama carried all three in 2012.

Asked about Cruz’s return to the Senate, the leader said, “We’re happy to have him back.”

‘Just settle down’

Some Republicans worry that Trump’s candidacy will hurt Republicans facing tough re-election battles, particularly in seven states Obama carried four years ago where incumbent GOP senators face re-election.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who represents one of those states, seemed unconcerned. “You ought to just settle down and let things work themselves out as things in politics tend to work themselves out,” he said.

Asked what he wanted to hear Thursday from Trump, Grassley said, “It isn’t a case of what he says on policy issues. Just speak policy more.”

Senators from swing states also maintained that Trump would be fine back home. “I hope all Republicans are going to get behind Donald Trump’s candidacy,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

Senators dismissed the notion that Cruz could re-enter the race, and Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said, “Withdrawal from drugs or presidential politics is not easy. Maybe we need a political equivalent of methadone.”

He added, jokingly, “Cruz ran an exhausting campaign and all he got was some leftover T-shirts and a lousy Senate seat.”