They’ve come a long way since “Lyin’ Ted.”
There they stood on stage before tens of thousands, President Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, embracing each other, hands on shoulders, pats on the back here at the Toyota Center in Houston.
“In just 15 days, the people of Texas are going to re-elect a man who has become a really good friend of mine,” Trump said of Cruz after their extended embrace.
The president, with his roaring supporters bringing the noise level to a crescendo, gave his full, in-person endorsement to Cruz, a man whose father Trump baselessly accused during the 2016 GOP primaries of associating with Lee Harvey Oswald just prior to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Now, he’s “Beautiful Ted.” That’s how Trump described the Texas senator Monday to reporters before coming here to Texas, to Cruz’s hometown, to try and help him across the finish line.
“You know we had our little difficulties,” Trump told the crowd. “It got ugly. … But nobody has helped me more.”
With just two seats to their advantage in the Senate and just over two weeks to go until Election Day, Trump and Republicans need to hold every seat they can, especially in red states like Texas. Democrat Beto O’Rourke has smashed fundraising records and is giving Trump and Republicans a scare in a state that has long been without a statewide Democratic elected official.
“Keep Texas as red as the MAGA hats you are wearing tonight!” Gov. Greg Abbott said earlier at the rally, before slamming O’Rourke as not having “Texas values.”
Trump piled on. “Vote for Ted Cruz, and vote for Texas. … This November, we can send a message to the radical Democrats: Don’t mess with Texas.”
A history of personal insults
The bitter presidential primary fight between Trump and Cruz went beyond policy differences and got personal. In addition to what he said about Cruz’s father, Rafael, Trump questioned the senator’s American-ness, given his Canadian birth; called him “worse than Hillary Clinton;” and ominously threatened to “spill the beans” on Cruz’s wife.
Cruz returned the favor, calling Trump a “pathological liar;” said nominating him would be a “train wreck;” and refused to endorse Trump at the 2016 national convention. “I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father,” Cruz said in July of 2016.
The convention was a scene ripped from the kind of professional wrestling event that might be seen in this arena when the Houston Rockets professional basketball team isn’t playing here. Cruz, playing the villain role, told Republican delegates to “vote your conscience.”
Trump looked on from the stands as cameras panned to him. Trump supporters booed Cruz off stage, as Cruz smiled.
And yet, two months later, Cruz relented and endorsed the party’s standard-bearer.
It’s a dynamic that those siding with Cruz’s Democratic Senate opponent, O’Rourke, have played up, calling into question Cruz’s manhood, particularly since Cruz’s campaign slogan is “Tough as Texas.”
“Come on, if someone called my wife dog, and said my daddy was in on the Kennedy assassination, I wouldn’t be kissing their ass,” an older man in a diner says in a Fire Ted Cruz PAC ad. “You stick a finger in their chest and give them a few choice words or you drag their ass out by the woodshed and kick their ass, Ted.”
“It’s politics” … “I might have stayed home”
But all seems to have been forgiven — or at least selectively forgotten. Sunday, Cruz declined to call the president a friend when asked on ABC’s This Week if Trump is a friend or foe.
“He’s the president,” Cruz responded. “I work with the president in delivering on our promises.”
There’s a cold calculus for why the duo have become useful to each other. Trump needs Cruz’s vote in the Senate — and no one is happier to save the chit than the transactional Trump. Cruz, on the other hand, needs Trump’s base for any chance to win re-election.
That base was here. The crowd was a dotted sea of red Make America Great Again hats, with people holding “Finish the Wall” signs and swaying to Elton John’s Rocket Man, that came for the Trump show — and they got it. Many said it’s time to unite ahead of the midterms.
“It’s politics,” said Jim Lopp of Houston wearing a black biker vest at the rally. “Obama and Clinton attacked each other and then they were best of friends seemingly. I was kind of laughing with it. They were throwing their cards on the table. I love it. I’m proud of both of them.”
Jennifer Bresler sees it the same way. “I think it’s politics,” said Bresler, who drove four hours from Dallas with her 21-year-old daughter, Jordin, to be here. Both were wearing red Make America Great Again T-shirts. “I was pissed at Cruz when he went sour at the convention. … It helps to know that he’s [Trump] going to support him.”
Michelle Morris of Houston said if Cruz had not made up with Trump there could have been consequences. “I might have stayed home,” said Morris, who cited Trump’s support for NASA as a positive for Houston and the economy for why she thinks he’s been a great president.
And now that Cruz has gotten on board, said Morris, sporting a stars-and-stripes Trump shirt and red Make America Great Again hat, “I have a lot of respect for Ted Cruz. Instead of being bitter or mean, he showed he cared a lot for the country and making America great again. In my eyes, Cruz went up 10 points.”
Mike Schlabach, who drove an hour-and-a-half from La Grange, Texas, to be here, equated it to boxers before a boxing match or men who “talk trash” before a football game. “At the end, they come and shake hands,” Schlabach said. “It’s the same thing in politics. It’s a tough sport. You knock the hell out of each other to win, and then walk around and slap each other on the backs.”
The day after Cruz declined to endorse Trump in the summer of 2016, Trump said Cruz may have ruined his chances politically. “I don’t want his endorsement,” Trump said. “I have such great— I don’t want his endorsement. Ted, stay home, relax, enjoy yourself.”
And so, here we are – with Cruz and Trump arm-in-arm, Cruz’s conversion to Trump Republican complete.
“God Bless Texas!” Cruz said in his first words when he came on stage Monday night. “And God bless President Donald Trump!”