WASHINGTON – Sen. Ted Cruz rose in the presidential race by painting Republican leaders as sellouts and insisting that only he had the courage to fight a broken system. Those same elites returned the favor by snubbing him when it mattered most, refusing to rally the party behind him and all but ensuring that Donald Trump will be the nominee after winning Indiana.
"What goes around comes around in politics," said Ron Bonjean, a former senior aide to congressional Republican leaders. "He's dug his own grave, and he'll have to live with that. By taking a flamethrower to the Senate floor he ended up burning himself."
Brian Walsh, who worked for Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Cruz's home-state colleague, said the former presidential hopeful who dropped out of the race Tuesday night has "gone out of his way to make so many enemies that when he needs allies they're not there."
Former House Speaker John Boehner last week called Cruz "Lucifer in the flesh." Former Sen. Judd Gregg termed Cruz a "demagogue's demagogue" whom he'd never back. Republican luminaries Trent Lott and Bob Dole have also indicated they prefer Trump over Cruz. Ex-rival Marco Rubio called Cruz "the only one" who fits his preference of nominating a conservative, though he stopped short of endorsing him.
"He's not a fan favorite. I don't know anyone that raves about him. There's not one person that says to me, 'You've got to meet this guy, you're going to like him,' " said Brian Ballard, a major Republican donor based in Florida who supported Jeb Bush in the primaries.
A palpable anger overcame Cruz on Tuesday morning as he ripped into Trump as a "pathological liar," "narcissist," "bully" and a "serial philanderer," after Trump linked his father to John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, echoing a conspiracy theory that lacks evidence. America is "staring at the abyss" with a potential Trump nomination, Cruz told reporters, and "it is only Indiana that can pull us back."
With victories in Iowa and on Super Tuesday, Cruz solidified his standing as the only Republican competitive with Trump, disproving skeptics who likened him to past one-hit-wonders Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who won Iowa and flamed out. But that has only intensified the animosity of some foes. Rep. Peter King of New York called Cruz a "fraud and a hoax" for leading an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act that culminated in the 2013 government shutdown.
The shutdown turned Cruz into a conservative hero. And he took advantage of it. In subsequent battles such as blocking President Obama's immigration policies and shutting the Export-Import Bank, Cruz embraced hard line positions and portrayed his colleagues as cowardly when they acquiesced to cutting deals with Democrats.
A former congressional GOP aide who had a front-row seat to Cruz's political warfare said the Texan staked out positions he knew were impossible for the party to sustain, and sought to position himself as a conservative martyr when those fights were lost.
Cruz's presidential bid promised to combine ideological purity with a fighting spirit to upend a corrupt establishment. It helped him with a GOP base that felt abandoned by its own leaders.
But Cruz's narrow appeal left him little room for error among his base of very conservative and evangelical voters. His net favorable rating among Republicans has fallen by a whopping 52 points since January — including by 21 points in the month of April as Trump gained 12, according to Gallup's tracking poll.
Wisconsin, the high-water mark of Cruz's campaign, indicated that he could transcend his core base when party elites were behind him. Enjoying enthusiastic support from Gov. Scott Walker, Cruz swept voters there across sex, age, education attainment and income, according to exit polls. Cruz celebrated the victory as a "turning point" that would stop Trump.
But Wisconsin was an outlier. Indiana's large share of evangelical and conservative voters failed him.
Between his defeats in New York and other Northeastern states in April, the remarkably steady Cruz began to seem desperate. He cut a deal with John Kasich in which the Ohio governor would not campaign in Indiana and Cruz would not campaign in Oregon or New Mexico. Last Wednesday, Cruz announced a running mate, Carly Fiorina. It was all too late.