Sen. Ted Cruz’s staff and surrogates quietly slipped from around a blue curtain to watch the man they’d worked to elect to the nation’s highest office take the stage to announce it was all over.
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Tears welled up in their eyes as some took video of the senator -- their boss -- on their phones.
“From the beginning, I said that I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory. Tonight, I'm sorry to say it appears that path has been foreclosed,” Cruz said Tuesday night in Indianapolis. “We gave it everything we've got.”
Several supporters, many of whom had traveled from state to state volunteering for Cruz, yelled “No” and could be heard crying.
The speech capped off what had been a tumultuous few days for the Cruz campaign. Cruz made the decision to suspend his bid for the White House in the wee hours of Tuesday morning after meeting with his advisers, including his wife Heidi all night, according to a source familiar with the senator’s decision-making process. After Cruz’s main rival, Donald Trump, went on morning television and attempted to link the senator’s father to John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, Cruz walked into what would be his last press conference as a presidential candidate to deliver a clear message about Trump.
‘What I Really Think of Donald Trump’
“I'm going to do something I haven't done for the entire campaign. For those of you all who have traveled with me all across the country, I'm going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump. This man is a pathological liar. He doesn't know the difference between truth and lies,” Cruz said in Evansville, Indiana, on Tuesday morning.
Cruz then labeled Trump a narcissist, serial philanderer and compared him to a villain in one of the “Back to the Future” movies.
Afterwards, the senator mingled with supporters at a barbecue restaurant. Some put their hands on his back to pray over him. When supporters encouraged him to fight on, the senator, speaking softly, repeated what he often said on the trail: “We’ll do it together.”
‘The Final Week’
While Cruz campaigned hard in his final week on the trail, greeting lines of supporters who wrapped around restaurants in small towns, he encountered ugly moments too. There was a child who yelled, “You Suck” and a tense encounter with Trump supporters in Marion, Indiana, who shouted at Cruz and chanted "Lyin' Ted," the nickname Trump branded Cruz. Cruz walked over to the men who stood outside a restaurant where the senator was meeting voters.
Rick Tyler, who was Cruz’s communications director until February and is now a political analyst, described Cruz’s encounter with the Trump supporter in Marion as emblematic of why the Cruz campaign was unable to stop Trump. In a sense, no one could have planned for the Trump phenomenon. Cruz had modeled his campaign imagining he would be the sole outsider battling an establishment Republican, not a real estate mogul and a reality TV star.
“The establishment candidate never really showed up as a front-runner. Instead, we got a celebrity. Trump used to call his supporters fans, and fans just behave differently than political supporters. Political supporters can be reasoned with, persuaded with overtime,” Tyler said.
When Cruz chose to engage those Trump supporters in Marion, he tried to reason with them and contrast himself with Trump and was met with insults.
Cruz was also never able to persuade a key component of the voting bloc that was pivotal to his strategy: Reagan Democrats.
“Ted Cruz really wanted those supporters and he didn’t capture them and Donald Trump to his credit did,” Tyler said. “The conservative movement should have been celebrating the fact that they defeated the establishment for the first time in a really long time yet many of them believed, as I do, that it will be for naught because, yes, we stuck it to the establishment. ... But they didn’t allow a conservative to prevail.”
What Cruz Does Next
Pundits are pondering whether Cruz will ever support Trump as the GOP nominee. On the trail, Cruz has refused to answer that question, saying he wouldn’t have to because he would ultimately be the nominee.
“I don’t know that Ted Cruz could ever support Donald Trump because he crossed lines that you just don’t cross,” Tyler said.
Tyler said Cruz now carries the mantle for conservatives.
“I think Cruz really inherits being the voice of the conservative movement and you can say that Barry Goldwater gave voice to it, Ronald Reagan made it a friendly, happy place to be, Newt Gingrich used it to secure a majority in the congress ... and nobody has really secured that mantle and I think Ted Cruz now has it,” Tyler said.
For Cruz’s young staffers back in Houston, they got one more chance to hear from the boss they admire.
On Wednesday afternoon, Cruz spoke to his staff at his Houston headquarters. A person who attended the meeting said that several people cried.
Tyler described the culture of the Cruz campaign as a rarity in politics and an organization run so well that it was run like a “professional business.”
“Many campaigns, they’re very Machiavellian, there’s a lot of egos and there’s a lot of Machiavellian power structures and there was never that in our campaign,” Tyler said. “It didn’t come out because nobody felt threatened by anybody.”