Ted Cruz no favorite with fellow GOP senators

Erica Werner
Associated Press

Washington — – Republican senators are confronting an unsettling possibility: Sen. Ted Cruz, their least favorite colleague, stands within reach of becoming the party’s presidential nominee and standard-bearer.

Worse than that, many GOP lawmakers and aides fear the Texas senator could ruin Republicans’ chances of hanging onto control of the Senate in November’s elections, alienating voters in a half-dozen key swing states with his hardline stances on issues from immigration to abortion.

And yet, these fellow Republicans say they’re essentially powerless to stop him. Any attempt to weaken Cruz in his primary campaign against Donald Trump and other GOP candidates risks bolstering his argument that he’s running against the “Washington cartel.” So there’s little Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans can do beyond watch in dismay as Cruz, isolated and boxed out in the clubby Senate after repeatedly angering colleagues, rises in the polls in first-voting Iowa and elsewhere.

With Cruz as the nominee, “state and local races that take place in ideologically moderate electorates could be a bloodbath,” says Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff and a GOP strategist. Vulnerable Republican senators are partly insulated by strong campaign organizations, “but there is no question their job could get tougher,” Holmes says.

In the presidential primaries, Cruz has attempted to make a virtue of his rejection by the Washington establishment, and his allies say he will actually help fellow Republicans by energizing the base and turning out evangelicals and others.

One of his favorite lines on the stump is quoting a newspaper article that, according to him, said, “Cruz can’t win because the Washington elites despise him.”

“I kinda thought that was the whole point of the campaign,” Cruz says, almost always generating applause.

Back in the Senate, Cruz has alienated fellow Republican senators on so many occasions they are hard to count. And now, with Democrats optimistic they might win the five seats needed to retake control of the Senate — four if they keep the White House — Republicans are desperate to protect vulnerable incumbents in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire, where a Cruz candidacy could turn off independents.

“He’s a very rock-ribbed conservative and very intelligent young man, very knowledgeable, put it that way,” says Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. “And I haven’t seen any great desire on his part to really bring the party along with him so that’s something that worries me. …”

Some GOP lawmakers and pollsters view Cruz as more problematic than businessman Trump, since Trump might have more crossover appeal to independents. Polling shown to House Republicans recently identified Cruz as the most difficult presidential nominee for any of them to share a ballot with.

Trump and Cruz are locked in a tight battle in Iowa. Speaking to reporters in New Hampshire, Cruz repeated his charge that the Republican establishment is “rushing to support Donald Trump.”

“So if as a voter you think what we need is more Republicans in Washington to cut a deal with” congressional Democratic leaders, Cruz said, “then I guess Donald Trump is your guy.”

Election update

Clinton ups attacks on Sanders: With days to go before the lead-off Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton is ramping up her attacks on fellow Democrat Bernie Sanders, saying she is not interested in ideas that will “never make it in the real world.”

Sanders health plan more generous than Medicare: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says his plan for a government-run health care system from cradle to grave is like Medicare for all. But with full coverage for long-term care, most dental care included, no deductibles and zero copays, the Sanders plan is considerably more generous.