Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
(CNN) – Ted Cruz’s relationship with Donald Trump has been, um, interesting to watch over the past few years.
You’ll remember — and if not, I will remind you — that during the 2016 presidential campaign, Cruz was one of the most outspoken critics of Trump. He called Trump a “sniveling coward,” a “pathological liar,” and “utterly amoral.” He also pointedly refused to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention that year.
Trump wasn’t blameless (don’t act surprised). He suggested Cruz’s wife was unattractive, that Cruz hid behind religion and that Cruz’s father might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (Yes, all of that really happened.)
The two Republicans eventually made up — largely because Cruz bent over backward to make nice with Trump because he wanted to run for president again someday and knew that he couldn’t do that if he was a sworn enemy of the former President.
Well, someday is now — as evidenced by Cruz’s trip to New Hampshire this week to stump for House candidate Karoline Leavitt, who is running in a Republican primary in the state’s 1st District.
While visiting the early presidential primary state, Cruz said something strikingly honest about both his ambitions and the broader state of the 2024 Republican race.
“There are a lot of candidates out there feeling their oats and boasting, ‘I’m running no matter what. I don’t care what Donald Trump says.’ Anyone who says that is lying,” Cruz told the Washington Examiner. “That’s an idiotic statement for someone to make who’s actually thinking about running.”
And he added this:
“I don’t know what Trump’s going to decide — nobody does. Anybody who tells you they do is making things up. The whole world will change depending on what Donald Trump decides. That’s true for every candidate. That’s true of every potential candidate.”
That is 100% right.
Everything that happens — including Cruz campaigning in New Hampshire and Florida Sen. Rick Scott stumping in Iowa this weekend — before Trump makes up his mind is a sort of pre-show.
It’s interesting and it’s worth covering. But if Trump runs — and there’s every indication that he will — then it likely won’t matter.
While there are pockets of anti-Trumpism within the GOP, the 2022 midterm primary season has, largely, affirmed the tight grip that the former President still has on the party.
Which doesn’t mean that no one will run against him if he launches a campaign. I could see former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and even Cruz getting into a race with Trump. (It goes without saying all of those people would be for sure in the mix if Trump shocks the world and decides against running again.)
But the truth that Cruz exposes is that Trump remains the prime mover in Republican presidential politics. All roads lead to him and his eventual go/no go decision. And until he makes it, the race doesn’t really start for any other Republican.
The Point: Trump’s announcement timing has been all over the place in the last few months — although of late it appears as though he is content to wait until after the midterms to make up his mind. Until he does so, the Republican field is frozen.
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