National Review, a prominent conservative media outlet, ran into a little trouble on Monday when reporting on Ted Cruz. The magazine initially said the Texas Republican was “set to unveil endorsements from more than four senators this week,” but that was retracted. An update added that the Cruz campaign actually has “no pending Senate endorsements to announce.”
Soon after, National Review clarified matters once more, saying Cruz would unveil “at least one” Senate endorsement “as early as this week.”
That announcement came yesterday when Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), perhaps best known for his role in blocking federal aid to Flint, Michigan, threw his official backing behind the Cruz campaign.
While Cruz has become a divisive figure within the Republican conference in the Senate, Lee is considered one of his only allies, and at a recent campaign stop, Cruz said Lee was “someone I love like a brother.”But Lee had not endorsed until today, instead choosing to campaign for Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida.
Perhaps the most notable thing about Lee’s endorsement is its uniqueness: other than Cruz himself, there are 53 Senate Republicans, and before yesterday, not one of them support the Texan’s candidacy. Lee’s announcement stands out in large part because he stands alone.
But that’s not the only reason yesterday’s endorsement matters. Lee’s office had said the Utah Republican would remain neutral until either Cruz or Rubio dropped out of the presidential race. The fact that Lee was willing to take himself off the fence yesterday suggests he sees Rubio’s candidacy as effectively, if not literally, over.
In fact, he said as much yesterday. Lee, who co-wrote a tax-reform bill with Rubio, specifically told reporters yesterday that he hopes the Floridian quits the 2016 race in order to “get behind Ted Cruz.” Lee also urged other Senate Republicans to follow his lead, though that seems highly unlikely, at least in the short term.
But before we move on, The New Republic flagged an interesting tidbit that I’d forgotten about.
[B]efore you rejoice that Ted Cruz, Washington’s loneliest man, has finally found a friend, remember this. When Lee proposed a bipartisan criminal defense bill that was supported by both the Koch brothers and the ACLU, Cruz stood before the Senate and decried the bill for something it didn’t do: releasing violent criminals from prison early. Lee, who was given no advance warning, was understandably horrified: He may have endorsed Cruz, but that doesn’t mean he’s forgiven him.
Even the senators who like Ted Cruz don’t really like Ted Cruz.