Jeb Bush backs Ted Cruz: what that says about GOP establishment

Jeb Bush and other Republican establishment figures are reluctantly backing Sen. Ted Cruz. Why is he more acceptable than Donald Trump?

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz leaves after speaking to the media about events in Brussels Tuesday near the Capitol in Washington.

Jeb Bush endorsed Ted Cruz for president on Wednesday, signaling that he thinks the conservative senator from Texas is the Republican Party’s last, best hope to stop Donald Trump.

“Ted is a consistent, principled conservative who has demonstrated the ability to appeal to voters and win primary contests, including yesterday’s Utah caucus,” said Mr. Bush in a Facebook post announcing the decision.

Senator Cruz eagerly accepted Bush’s backing, saying it shows that he’s capable of leading a united GOP against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the fall. Though there’s that little problem of Mr. Trump’s wide lead in delegates to overcome first.

“What we’re seeing all across the country is that the momentum is with us,” said Cruz in a CNN appearance, glossing over the fact that Trump won the Arizona primary on Tuesday and actually increased his delegate edge overnight.

So what does Bush’s endorsement of Cruz say about the GOP establishment? After all, the Bush family remains the symbol of the party’s Old Guard. And Cruz is far from a favorite of that loose collection of lawmakers, lobbyists, donors, and consultants that constitutes the Republican elite.

In fact, Cruz has shaped his political persona has someone in semi-permanent conflict with “Washington insiders.” He’s attacked Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and other top GOP lawmakers as sell-outs and squishes. Many of his Republican colleagues grumbled that Cruz’s push to shut down the government was a doomed exercise in self-aggrandizement.

In his endorsement announcement Bush said, “We must move to overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena.”

Hmm. “Divisiveness” and “vulgarity”? Bush and others formerly attributed those qualities to Ted Cruz, as well. 

The reason for the change of heart, of course, is that Bush and other establishment figures see Cruz as an interloper – and Trump as an existential threat.

Trump at the top of the ticket could result in a down-ballot wipeout in the fall, they think. All that work to get Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress would be threatened.

Trump as president might be worse, in the establishment’s eyes. He would rebrand the GOP in his own populist image, moving it far from the low-tax, small-government orthodoxy that now holds. That’s why the Club for Growth, famous for forcing GOP candidates to pledge they won’t raise taxes, endorsed Cruz on Wednesday, too.

Cruz is the only candidate left with any chance of derailing the Trump train. Ohio Gov. John Kasich may be a better fit for Jeb Bush, ideologically and personally, but he’s got no path to the nomination. So Cruz it is. 

But will it be too little, too late? The GOP elite had lots of time to rally around a single alternative to Trump, and it has taken until now, with half the party’s delegates already allocated, to do so. It’s possible the populist die is already cast.

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