HOLLIS, New Hampshire — Ted Cruz is trying to shape the narrative of the GOP race for president, suggesting on Wednesday night that the “Washington establishment” has determined Marco Rubio “can’t win this race” and is now “rushing over to support Donald Trump.”
“We’re seeing the Washington establishment abandoning Marco Rubio and unifying behind Donald Trump,” Cruz told reporters in New Hampshire. “And we’re seeing conservatives coming together and unifying behind our campaign. And if conservatives unite, we win.”
Cruz delivered his remarks shortly after a new CNN/WMUR poll bumped Cruz up to second place in New Hampshire, the state that traditionally picks the so-called establishment or moderate candidates over the more socially conservative options like Cruz.
“Let me encourage other members of the establishment: Keep supporting Donald Trump,” Cruz said. “Because every time you do it, what it is doing is telling conservatives all over the country where you stand and who stands with you.”
The poll, released Wednesday evening, showed Cruz with 14 percent of support -- ahead by 4 points over both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Cruz had an even more sizable margin over Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich, who registered just 6 percent each.
A Cruz campaign official told NBC News two weeks ago that the campaign intended to reach the point where it could set its sights on Trump. But first, the official said, it needed to clear the rest of the field to set up the mano-a-mano situation.
On Wednesday night, Cruz’s remarks appeared to be an attempt to help that process along, and to bolster skepticism among voters that any of the other candidates outside of Trump are viable.
“The Washington establishment knows who's willing to keep the gravy train going, who's willing to keep cutting the deals and growing government,” said Cruz, openly encouraging voters to switch their support to Trump and away from the other candidates.
Despite Cruz’s gains, Trump is still sitting at 34 percent of support in the New Hampshire poll – a 20-point margin over Cruz.
Earlier on Wednesday, Bob Dole, the GOP’s nominee in 1996, suggested to The New York Times that he would rather have Donald Trump than Ted Cruz as the party’s nominee. Last month, Dole told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC that he “might oversleep” on Election Day if Cruz is the nominee.
Cruz often targets Dole on the campaign trail.
“If we nominate another candidate in the mold of a Bob Dole, or a John McCain or a Mitt Romney, all of whom are good and honorable men, but what they did didn’t work,” Cruz says often in his campaign stump speeches, implying they were not full-fledged conservatives.
On Tuesday, Cruz also blasted longtime Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad after he suggested Cruz’s presidency would be “very damaging” to the state.
Cruz fired back shortly after Branstad’s remarks, tweeting that Trump “continues to seek establishment support.”
The Texas senator – who is also neck and neck in polls with Trump in Iowa – punched at Trump’s intentions to be a “dealmaker.”
“Mr. Trump's pitch to the Washington establishment is he's a dealmaker,” Cruz said. “He'll go and cut a deal with Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, and those deals. He'll do exactly what John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have done -- continue the failed big government policies of this administration, continue the cronyism, continue the corporate welfare, continuing Washington picking winners and losers.”