A group of tea party activists is convinced that Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has struck a secret deal with rival Sen. Ted Cruz to guarantee the Texan the vice presidential spot on the ticket, and conservatives are raving that it would be the best pairing since Harry Burnett Reese combined peanut butter and Hershey’s chocolate.
The Cruz campaign vehemently denied that there was an agreement to form the conservatives’ “dream ticket,” while the Trump campaign remained mum.
“There is no such secret deal,” said Cruz campaign national spokesman Rick Tyler.
Still, speculation about an arranged marriage of Mr. Trump’s self-styled conservative crusade and Mr. Cruz’s die-hard tea party convictions gained credibility last week when Mr. Trump broached the subject himself.
The billionaire businessman named Mr. Cruz as an acceptable running mate during an interview on Laura Ingraham’s nationally syndicated talk radio show.
“I like him. He’s backed everything I’ve said,” Mr. Trump said in endorsing the senator from Texas as a possible VP. “Ted Cruz is now agreeing with me 100 percent.”
The remark piqued the interest of tea party and conservative activists who had already theorized that recent moves by the two campaigns signaled a secret pact.
“It’s highly likely that there is a sweetheart deal there, and it is a very good thing with almost no downside,” said Tom O’Halloran, host of the Texas-based conservative webcast Patriot Radio Show, who subscribes to the theory of a secret Trump-Cruz ticket.
“It’s a brilliant move,” he said. “It sounds to me like a deal that was made in heaven.”
Mr. O’Halloran and other believers pointed to a purported secret meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz in Dallas at the end of the summer and the absence of attacks waged by the combative Mr. Trump against Mr. Cruz, the only major candidate to be spared Mr. Trump’s blisteringly personal attacks.
Mr. Cruz has mostly refrained from attacking any of his rivals in the crowded GOP field.
However, Mr. Cruz last month said that he was confident that he could beat Mr. Trump in the primary race.
“I don’t believe Donald is going to be the nominee, and I think, in time, the lion’s share of his supporters end up with us,” Mr. Cruz said in an interview on WABC Radio.
“If you look to the records of all the Republican candidates, there’s a big difference between my record and that of everyone else if you ask who has stood up to Washington,” he said. “I think his involvement has been tremendously helpful to my campaign, because it’s framed the central question of this primary.”
The detente between the two camps will be put to the test now that Mr. Cruz is surging in Iowa and within striking distance of Mr. Trump.
According to a Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday, Mr. Cruz has gained 13 points in Iowa for a second-place position at 23 percent, closely trailing Mr. Trump with 25 percent.
Mr. Cruz overtook Republican presidential contender Ben Carson, who fell to third place with 18 percent in the poll.
The most compelling evidence, according to the theorists, is Mr. Trump’s successful recruitment of Cruz loyalist Katrina Pierson, a tea party heavyweight in Texas who played a key role in Mr. Cruz’s upset election to the U.S. Senate in 2012.
Mr. Trump hired Ms. Pierson earlier this month as his campaign’s national spokeswoman.
She first stepped out in public for Mr. Trump in September, introducing him to a rally of about 20,000 people at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Ken Crow, an Iowa tea party activist who is close to Ms. Pierson, said that he is convinced that there is a deal between the two candidates.
“I find that extremely interesting, knowing Katrina’s apparent affection for Senator Cruz, and particularly since she spent so much time getting him elected in Texas and her unwavering dedication to tea party values,” he said.
“I hope my hypothesis that something is going on proves to be true,” said Mr. Crow.
Ms. Pierson did not respond to an email from The Washington Times inquiring about a Trump-Cruz deal and her involvement in the campaign.
Many tea party leaders in Texas balked at talk of a secret deal for Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz to join forces. But they still loved the idea.
“It sounds more like a conspiracy theory than an actuality,” said Jeff Rogers of the Lone Star Tea Party.
He said that he prefers Mr. Cruz to Mr. Trump, but he would embrace the ticket regardless of who was on top.
“I could buy into that wholeheartedly. The two of them together would be great,” said Mr. Rogers.
However much the Trump-Cruz idea appeals to some tea party members, tea party activists concede that Mr. Trump does not adhere to the movement’s constitutionalist tenets.
“I would feel much better about a Trump ticket that included Ted Cruz,” said Ken Emanuelson, an activist with the Far North Dallas Tea Party who has known Mr. Cruz for 15 years. “I’m not sure that Ted would take a VP slot.”
Mr. Emanuelson said he didn’t believe there was a deal, though he said the two teams had “allied interests” that have kept attacks against each other at bay.
“Right now both teams have an interest in not going after each other,” he said. But “it would surprise me if there was anything formal.”