Ted Cruz may be planning on voting for Donald Trump, but he sure doesn’t seem happy about it. He talked to The Texas Tribune about his decision to kinda endorse Trump at TribFest, and ignored a key question.

Smith asked: “Do you consider Donald Trump to be fit to be president?” 

Cruz paused, then answered: “I think we have one of two choices.”

But that was as far as he was willing to go. With each of his carefully worded answers, Cruz made clear that he worries about what a Trump presidency would mean. And he still struggles with some of the things Trump did during the campaign, such as mock Cruz’s wife’s looks and suggest without any evidence that Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination.

“I have no intention of defending everything Donald Trump says and does,” he said. “I have been very clear that I have significant disagreements with him.”

This strikes me as someone who is essentially being forced to support Trump because he’s worried about his political future. Cruz is going to be up for re-election in 2018, and there have been plenty of rumors Congressman Michael McCaul will challenge him in the GOP primary (my own theory is it will be Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick). RNC Chief Reince Priebus told CBS News last week how the party might try to keep a few Trump holdouts from running again.

“Those people need to get on board,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And if they’re thinking they’re going to run again someday, I think that we’re going to evaluate the process – of the nomination process and I don’t think it’s going to be that easy for them.”

“People in our party are talking about what we’re going to do about this. I mean there’s a ballot access issue in South Carolina. In order to be on the ballot in South Carolina, you actually have to pledge your support to the nominee, no matter who that person is,” Priebus said. “So what’s the penalty for that? It’s not a threat, but that’s just the question that we have a process in place.”

“And if a private entity puts forward a process and has agreement with the participants in that process, and those participants don’t follow through with the promises that they made in that process, what– what should a private party do about that if those same people come around in four or eight years?” Priebus continued.

It’s possible Priebus could have kept on this promise, especially if Trump somehow wins in November. I wouldn’t blame Cruz for deciding to say, “Fine, I’ll support Trump,” if Priebus was really putting down the hammer to end his presidential ambitions. It’s also possible Trump’s threat to form a super-PAC to make Cruz’ political life hell played a factor too. If the polls are correct, and Trump only has a seven point lead over Hillary Clinton in Texas, then Trump could point the finger at Cruz over his loss. It wouldn’t be surprising if Trump did this anyway, considering how he seems to enjoy suing (or threatening to sue) people for fun. Trump could force Cruz to get into another nasty primary in 2018, in hopes of draining his resources for the general election.

All this doesn’t mean Cruz’ decision is going over well with Texans. Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder (who’s pretty plugged into the Cruz campaign) believes Cruz has pretty much doomed any shot at the White House.

That being the case, it should be easy to see why this is a mistake Cruz can’t afford to make. To be clear, that’s an analytical comment, not a normative one. I would guess that his endorsement of Trump is an example of Cruz Rule Five (“he’s too smart for his own good”), and—for what it’s worth—I’m not entirely unsympathetic to him. I remember, from our conversation in May, how genuinely distressed he seemed at the realization that Trump would be the Republican nominee. I believe he was sincerely convinced that a Trump presidency would put the country, and the Constitution, in real peril. And I suspect that Cruz, in the privacy of the voting booth, may not tick the box for Trump in November.

At the same time, I’m aware that even before today’s news, it was tricky to persuade anyone to consider giving Cruz the benefit of the doubt about anything—and after today, it will be impossible. Either his endorsement is a pack of lies, or his speech at the RNC was: they can’t both be true. And though it’s possible that “Lyin’ Ted” might still one day become president, the odds, in my view, are now vanishingly narrow. We’ve all heard it a million times: “Everyone hates Ted Cruz.” And now he’s given this faceless “everyone” plenty of reason to do so.

She may have a very good point because a lot of people seem distressed over Cruz’ decision. It doesn’t matter a hill of beans to me (as someone who donated to Cruz 2012 Senate run) because I expect politicians to be untrustworthy. Cruz had already gone from someone who seemed “libertarianish” to a full-blown social conservative/interventionist in the Senate. That precluded me from supporting him in 2016. I might re-consider if he went back to “Senate candidate Ted Cruz,” instead of “Presidential candidate Ted Cruz,” but that’s a discussion for another day.

The biggest failure by Cruz is his decision to give into the idea it’s only Trump or Clinton in November. It’s very true third parties have a tough time breaking through the duopoly set up by the GOP and Democrats, but imagine what would have happened if Cruz said, “I’m voting Gary Johnson.” A sitting Senator saying he’d go third party might be all the push needed to get other anti-Trump people to consider speaking out. It could be all Johnson needs to get onto the debate stage for the second or third debate (even though he should be there anyway). It could start to fragment the parties even more, and actually give people more options than they realize. Neither major party candidate is likable, and Cruz could have really turned some heads. It’s disappointing he went the safe-ish route and supported Trump, and maybe he should have just kept his mouth shut. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

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