- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Former Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush endorsed erstwhile rival Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday, giving Mr. Cruz a further boost just hours after he posted a resounding victory in Utah’s caucuses with a stunning 69 percent of the vote.

Mr. Bush, who dropped his own bid last month, said Mr. Cruz is a “consistent and principled conservative” and that he gives Republicans their best chance to stop front-runner Donald Trump and capture the White House in November.

“For the sake of our party and country, we must move to overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena, or we will certainly lose our chance to defeat the Democratic nominee and reverse President Obama’s failed policies,” Mr. Bush said.

The former Florida governor’s backing is the latest sign that establishment Republicans, long wary of Mr. Cruz, consider him the lesser danger to themselves and their party than Mr. Trump. Mr. Bush joins other former presidential candidates Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businesswoman Carly Fiorina in backing Mr. Cruz.

“What we’re seeing is that old Reagan coalition coming together,” Mr. Cruz said at a campaign stop in New York City. “Across the spectrum, Republicans are uniting. Independents are uniting, libertarians are uniting, Democrats who are tired of what we’re doing are uniting.”

Mr. Cruz split Tuesday’s contests with Mr. Trump. The billionaire businessman won Arizona with 47 percent of the vote, claiming all 58 of the state’s delegates to the July nominating convention.

Mr. Cruz, meanwhile, won 69 percent of the vote in Utah’s caucuses — by far the biggest win of any state on the Republican schedule so far — and claimed all 40 delegates there.

Mr. Trump now has 739 delegates, Mr. Cruz has 465, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has 143, according to the latest tally from The Associated Press.

It takes 1,237 delegates to claim the nomination, and Mr. Trump would have to win about 60 percent of all the remaining delegates to win on the first ballot. Mr. Cruz’s challenge is even stiffer, and the map is about to shift to states where his religious conservative base plays less of a role.

Instead, Mr. Cruz will have to count on anti-Trump forces to coalesce around him.
Mr. Graham, a South Carolina Republican who has battled Mr. Cruz in the Senate, has openly acknowledged that the Texan wasn’t his first choice. But Mr. Graham said he is now the only one left who can stop Mr. Trump.

Earlier this year, Mr. Graham said that choosing between a Cruz nomination and a Trump nomination is “like being shot or poisoned.” At a recent press dinner in Washington, Mr. Graham also joked that if someone killed Mr. Cruz on the floor of the U.S. Senate and the trial were held there, nobody would vote for a conviction.

“That really was a first for me,” Mr. Cruz joked Wednesday. “I’d never before had an event hosted by someone who three weeks earlier publicly called for my murder.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, pitched in by recording robocalls on behalf of Mr. Cruz to run in Arizona and Utah. But just last week, Mr. Romney was campaigning for Mr. Kasich ahead of the Ohio primary and openly advocated a voting strategy with the ultimate goal of stopping Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cruz is scheduled to spend several days this week in Wisconsin, which will hold the next Republican primary April 5. But the Texas Republican, who once derided Mr. Trump for having “New York values,” said he is “competing hard” in the Empire State, which holds its contest April 19.

He said Wednesday that he is not worried about the “values” comment hurting him. He highlighted Mr. Trump’s past financial support for Mrs. Clinton, who represented New York in the U.S. Senate, and disgraced Democrats such as former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer and former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner.

“The people of New York understand firsthand the liberal, left-wing values of New York politicians,” Mr. Cruz said.

In the wake of this week’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, Mr. Cruz has stiffened his own prescriptions for homeland security, calling for a review of how the U.S. approves visitor visas and proposing stricter law enforcement patrols in Muslim neighborhoods to stamp out Islamic extremism.

That has earned him rebukes from President Obama, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.

“As far as the notion of having surveillance of neighborhoods where Muslims are present, I just left a country that engages in that kind of neighborhood surveillance — which, by the way, the father of Sen. Cruz escaped for America, the land of the free,” Mr. Obama said. “The notion that we would start down that slippery slope makes absolutely no sense. It’s contrary to who we are.”

Mr. Obama, speaking while on an overseas trip to Argentina, was referring to his recent visit to Cuba, where Mr. Cruz’s father was born.

For Mr. Obama, who has trained much of his fire on Mr. Trump during the campaign, to mention Mr. Cruz showed just how high the senator has risen in the Republican political conversation.

“I’m never surprised when President Obama lashes out and attacks me. I’m never surprised when Mayor de Blasio lashes out and attacks me, as he did yesterday,” Mr. Cruz said. “Because their policies are failures. Their policies aren’t working.”

Mr. Cruz also continued his criticism of Mr. Trump, saying a Tuesday evening tweet from the party’s front-runner with a vague threat to “spill the beans” on Mr. Cruz’s wife, Heidi, in response to an ad featuring Mr. Trump’s wife, was simply an attempt by the billionaire businessman to insert a distraction into the race.

The ad, from an anti-Trump political action committee, showed a racy photo of Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, a former model. Mr. Cruz called the ad “completely inappropriate” and said he wasn’t affiliated with the group that ran it.

Donald knows that,” Mr. Cruz said. “He just used it as an excuse to try to attack my wife, Heidi, and … that speaks volumes about his willingness to go to the gutter at the drop of a hat.”

But Mr. Trump continued to suggest Wednesday that Mr. Cruz was somehow involved.

“Lyin’ Ted Cruz denied that he had anything to do with the G.Q. model photo post of Melania. That’s why we call him Lyin’ Ted!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

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