AP NEWS

Mission to defend Ted Cruz becomes Trump family priority

October 5, 2018

The importance of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz to President Donald Trump is impossible to miss as the White House unleashes an all-out defense of the Texas Republican.

First, it was Ivanka Trump in Houston touring NASA with Cruz two weeks ago. This week it was Donald Trump Jr. vociferously defending Cruz at a pair of rallies in Texas. On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to arrive in Dallas to campaign with Cruz.

And on-deck is the President himself, who has promised to hold a rally in October for the Texas Republican he bitterly fought for the presidency just two years ago.

While it looks like a mission to save Cruz — who is in a surprisingly close battle with U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke — political experts say the real concern is that if Cruz loses, Trump will face a Senate even more hostile to his policies.

“They know his seat is absolutely required to hold the majority” in the U.S. Senate, said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.

Democrats need to pick up at least two seats currently held by Republicans in the 100-member U.S. Senate in order to take back the majority in that chamber. Democrats have mostly been eyeing seats in Arizona and Nevada as their best prospects. But O’Rourke has changed that calculus as he’s raised more money than Cruz and surged in polls. If O’Rourke pulls off the upset, Democrats would only need one more seat to retake the majority in the Senate.

That concern is clearly on the mind of the Trumps. In Wichita Falls with Cruz on Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. warned that if Democrats retake the House and Senate, his father could be left working with Democrats Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and Chuck Schumer as Senate Majority Leader.

“You think you saw dysfunction over the last two weeks in D.C.?” Trump Jr. told the crowd. “You ain’t seen nothing yet if you gave Nancy Pelosi the House of Representatives, if you gave Chuck Schumer the Senate. Let that be your motivation.”

The president has been even more blunt, using a rally in Tennessee earlier this week to warn that if Democrats win the majority they will “burn” down everything Republicans have fought for over the last two years.

The newfound alliance between Trump and Cruz belies their animosity during the 2016 campaign cycle. Trump famously tagged Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted” and insulted his wife, Heidi Cruz. Trump also suggested falsely that Cruz’s father played a role in President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral” and a “serial philanderer.”

Throughout his re-election campaign, Cruz has acknowledged his up and down relationship with Trump but said after Trump won the presidency he made it a point to visit Trump Tower and offered his help to get the president’s agenda through the Senate.

On Wednesday in Wichita Falls, Trump Jr. acknowledged the bad blood between the families was “the elephant in the room” and praised Cruz for setting those differences aside to work with the Trump administration.

“He’s fought alongside of my father ever since; on every major vote,” Trump Jr. said.

For Cruz, the midterm election strategy is clear. Trump won Texas in 2016 and the state has more Republicans than Democrats. If the GOP base gets fired up and turns out to vote, he wins. If they stay home or splinter amid a Democratic surge, that is when Cruz’s re-election could be in jeopardy.

The stakes “ain’t never been higher than they are right now,” Cruz said at the rally with Trump Jr.

In other words, Cruz needs Trump supporters to come out in big numbers for him.

Trump in late August praised Cruz and vowed to hold a rally with him.

“I will be doing a major rally for Senator Ted Cruz in October,” Trump said in a tweet. “I’m picking the biggest stadium in Texas we can find. As you know, Ted has my complete and total Endorsement.”

Details on Pence’s visit to Dallas on Monday have not been publicly released, but he’s expected to attend a private fundraiser with Cruz.

The visits come months after Politico reported earlier in the summer that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went to Washington to request the White House’s help in the election cycle.

“The trip was about making sure they were focusing on Texas as well as every other state,” Patrick said last month.

While the Trumps and Pence stump for Cruz, O’Rourke has largely avoided help from prominent national Democrats. While former President Barack Obama has endorsed Democrats in Senate races in Arizona and Nevada, he’s not endorsed O’Rourke, who last year made clear he did not want Pelosi campaigning for him in Texas.

O’Rourke still is getting help on the campaign trial from Democrats like former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and has planned to campaign with U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Massachusetts.

jeremy.wallace@chron.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly