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Ted Cruz already looking beyond 2016 election

The "conservative movement will only continue to get stronger," Cruz said.

WASHINGTON -- Ted Cruz suggested last month Republicans are "looking at a bloodbath of Walter Mondale proportions" if GOP voters send Donald Trump out of Cleveland as the party's nominee for president.

Mondale, the Democrats' 1984 presidential nominee, won just one state over Ronald Reagan.

"This ain't complicated -- if the top of the ticket is blown out of the water by 10 points, we're losing the Senate," Cruz said at the time, addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas. "And there's not a thing that can be done to stop it."

Cruz, the 45-year-old freshman senator from Texas, has already called Trump amoral, a serial philanderer, a bully, a pathological liar and "a narcissist at a level I don't think this country's ever seen." And he has refused to back Trump after being peppered by reporters at least a dozen times with the question in just the last two weeks.

But Cruz received more than seven million votes across the country in the three months since his Iowa caucus victory.

He repeatedly said on Tuesday the "conservative movement," as he calls it, "will only continue to get stronger."

But with Cruz seemingly its shepherd, there's uncertainty in what the path ahead looks like for the "millions of grassroots activists" who Cruz praised on Tuesday as heralding it.

Reagan - the cornerstone of Cruz's stump speech for the last year ("We will win by following Reagan's admonition by painting in bold colors, not pale pastels. We have done it before — we can do it again!") - lost his first bid for the Republican nomination in 1976.

But Reagan stood onstage at the Republican Convention that year alongside its selected nominee, President Gerald Ford, and decidedly told the party's loyalists: "We must go forth from here united, determined."

Reagan returned four years later to fulfill what was a long, tortuous effort for conservatives' cause.

This year, it appears Cruz's path will pay little deference to his primary rival.

When asked on Tuesday by NBC's Kelly O'Donnell if there was anything Trump could say that would persuade him to back the real estate mogul, Cruz ignored the premise of her question.

"For me, what is important is that the [conservative] movement continues," Cruz said amid the gaggle of reporters outside his Senate office. "This movement from the people -- this battle is about a lot more than one election cycle or one candidate."

Cruz's chief campaign strategist, Jason Johnson, tweeted the night Cruz suspended his campaign: "We have only begun to fight," and included "#NeverTrump."

And the campaign is already efforting the selection of national delegates to the RNC platform committee who will back a conservative-friendly platform at this summer's convention.

From public indications, Cruz seems content with shifting the focus of his effort to the long-term. Cruz shocked his supporters last week when he ceded the GOP race before Trump won the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

For a senator known to take a fight to its last breath - or through 16 days of a government shutdown - Cruz veered away, opting to back out of the race.

"If you do get him stopped but you lose 17 states in a row, what then?" a top Cruz campaign official rhetorically asked last weekend. "It was hard for us to say which states we were for sure going to win."

The prospects for Cruz this summer dwindled much like the devolving vigor of his message at the hands of Trump.

Cruz was forced to square up himself as the alternative to Trump as he struggled to defend his play for delegates and persuade voters his scattered victories were indications of momentum.

And Trump had seemingly hijacked swaths of voters' conscious away from Cruz's meticulous, diligent, grassroots and data-driven efforts, which spawned from Iowa to Indiana, from late-night diner retail stops to VFW Hall visits.

"Let me ask you something, sir," Cruz said, confronting a Trump protester after a campaign stop the day before the Indiana primary.

"What, what do you like about Donald?" Cruz asked the man, who stood across the street from one of the senator's campaign stops.

The protester shouted back: "Everything!"

Cruz attempted to engage in a substantive conversation, but it broke down before a true conversation ever really began.

"Lyin' Ted!" the man then yelled as Cruz stood just three feet away.

One week after that exchange on the streets of Marion, Indiana, Cruz is back in the Senate, where he will remain for at least two more years before he faces his first re-election campaign.

But for a candidate who told his supporters on Tuesday he is "certainly disappointed with the outcome," it appears Cruz is far from relinquishing his role in the movement's endeavors.

After hinting he'd potentially be willing to jump back into this presidential contest if a path to the nomination became viable, Cruz, almost instantly, instead, pushed the brakes back down - but not without giving a nod to the future.

"I appreciate the eagerness and excitement of all the folks in the media to see me back in the ring," Cruz said.

"But you may have to wait a little bit longer."

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