Ted Cruz backs his former bitter rival Donald Trump, saying Hillary Clinton must be defeated

Ted Cruz, right, endorsed his former GOP primary rival Donald Trump on Friday.
Ted Cruz, right, endorsed his former GOP primary rival Donald Trump on Friday.
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is backing GOP nominee Donald Trump for the presidency, setting aside their bitter rivalry because Hillary Clinton must be defeated, he said Friday.

“Our country is in crisis. Hillary Clinton is manifestly unfit to be president, and her policies would harm millions of Americans. And Donald Trump is the only thing standing in her way,” Cruz, who came in second in the race for the GOP nomination, wrote on Facebook.

“A year ago, I pledged to endorse the Republican nominee, and I am honoring that commitment. And if you don’t want to see a Hillary Clinton presidency, I encourage you to vote for him.”

The endorsement’s emphasis on defeating Clinton could help serve as armor against any flak Cruz got for abandoning his opposition to Trump, which he had long described as principled. The move was also seen as an act of political expediency by a Republican known to be eyeing the 2020 race if Trump loses in November. 

Still, it was a remarkable step given how brutal the contest became between Trump and Cruz.

After initially getting along in the unusually large field of Republicans vying for the nomination, the pair grew increasingly vicious toward each other as the race intensified. Trump dubbed Cruz “Lyin’ Ted,” mocked his wife’s appearance and falsely insinuated that the senator’s father might have been involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

By the time Trump’s nomination appeared inevitable, Cruz was calling him “utterly amoral,” a “pathological liar,” “a serial philanderer” and a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.”

The tension came to a head at the Republican National Convention. Cruz, speaking in prime time, pointedly refused to endorse Trump and infuriated the crowd when he urged delegates to “vote your conscience,” echoing a slogan used by anti-Trump delegates. In response, Trump said he didn’t want Cruz’s endorsement and threatened to launch a super PAC to take down the Texas senator when he ran for reelection.

As the summer wore on, Cruz began facing pressure from fellow Republicans who noted that he had pledged at the start of the primary season to support the party’s eventual nominee.

Evidence of a thaw began emerging in recent days. Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, met privately with Cruz last week in Washington. Cruz’s campaign manager, Jeff Roe, told reporters Wednesday that Cruz found Trump’s recent campaigning encouraging.

"Watching Donald run a better campaign lately has been helpful to him," Roe said.

Hours later, the Trump campaign announced its support of a legislative priority of Cruz’s, stopping the Obama administration from handing over control of Internet domain names to international stakeholders.

Cruz tweeted his thanks to Trump.

Trump’s campaign manager responded with praise and pulled Cruz’s campaign manager into the conversation.

Internet freedom was among six policy reasons Cruz cited for backing Trump. The others were Supreme Court nominations, Obamacare, energy, immigration and national security.

“These are six vital issues where the candidates’ positions present a clear choice for the American people,” Cruz wrote. “If Clinton wins, we know — with 100% certainty — that she would deliver on her left-wing promises, with devastating results for our country. My conscience tells me I must do whatever I can to stop that.”

Trump said he was “greatly honored” by Cruz’s endorsement. 

“We have fought the battle and he was a tough and brilliant opponent,” Trump said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him for many years to come in order to make America great again.”

Even so, the 733-word announcement was not a full-throated endorsement — Cruz did not use the word “endorse” until the final paragraph. He released it on a Friday, virtually guaranteeing it will be overshadowed by Monday’s highly anticipated debate between Trump and Clinton.

But Cruz did praise Trump’s expanded list of potential Supreme Court nominees released Friday, as well as what Cruz described as Trump’s increased focus on freedom, such as emphasizing school choice to help lift minorities out of poverty.

The endorsement was “politically convenient,” with little to no downside, said Craig Robinson, an influential conservative blogger in Iowa, the state where Cruz won the first-in-the-nation caucuses in January.

“As the race tightens up, you don’t want someone to be able to point to you and say, ‘Hey, you’re the reason we lost.’ Or you surely don’t want a sitting president in the White House who could help fundraise for your primary opponent,” he said.

But some of Cruz’s most devout supporters worried about what the endorsement could mean for his political future, given that one of his chief attributes for them was his unwillingness to compromise on his principles.

“The conservative graveyard is littered with the remains of would-be champions, who buried themselves after misspending their political capital, and choosing the wrong hills to die on,” Steve Deace, a conservative Iowa radio host, wrote in Conservative Review on Friday. “As someone that knows, respects and loves Ted Cruz, my fear is his endorsing Trump risks adding his name to that tragic list. And given the fact Cruz is one of the last remaining constitutional champions we have, if he falls he won’t fall alone.”

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2:40 p.m.: This story was updated with reaction.

1:05 p.m.: This story was updated with more comments from Cruz.

This story was originally published at 1 p.m.