After spending several months drafting behind Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz appears to be making his move to escape the billionaire businessman’s wake and try to capture his loyal supporters in the GOP presidential nomination contest, putting the first chinks in the unusual alliance that had developed between the two candidates.
Amid signs that Mr. Trump’s momentum is stalling, Mr. Cruz last week announced a solid fundraising total for the third quarter and took the first steps to put some real distance between himself and Mr. Trump, who he had embraced — literally — just a month ago.
Rick Tyler, a Cruz campaign spokesman, told The Washington Times that Mr. Cruz’s fundraising has stunned the Washington establishment and put him on a much stronger footing than some of his rivals who also are competing for the conservative mantle in the race.
“We have been slow and steady, while others have peaked and fallen off,” Mr. Tyler said. “The goal has always been to rise at the right time.”
Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, watched as other candidates have risen and fallen in polling, and has been working on Capitol Hill to push leaders to take more conservative stances even as, on the campaign trail, he studiously avoided the kinds of clashes with Mr. Trump that dented other candidates.
Last month, Mr. Cruz even took the bold step of inviting Mr. Trump to appear at a rally that Mr. Cruz was headlining to oppose the nuclear deal President Obama struck with Iran. The two men shared a quick embrace and kind words on the stage at a time when other candidates were trying to find ways to feud with Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Cruz raised eyebrows Friday when he seemed to break his restraint, telling WABC-AM radio host Rita Cosby that he believes Mr. Trump will fade and he himself will be there to gobble up most of his supporters.
“In time, I don’t believe Donald is going to be the nominee, and I think, in time, the lion’s share of his supporters [will] end up with us,” Mr. Cruz said.
A senior Trump adviser responded via Twitter, saying he disagreed with the assessment.
Analysts said it was the clearest public indication from Mr. Cruz that he has been drafting behind Mr. Trump and plans to slingshot past him after the former reality TV star’s supporters flock in his direction.
Frank Cannon, president of American Principles in Action, said he is surprised that Mr. Cruz would make such a public statement.
“I think he senses the certain beginning of a weakness, or at least a stop in the Trump rise, and as the potential for a Trump collapse — or at least a retrenchment of the Trump vote — increases, he wants to be able to pick that up,” Mr. Cannon said. “He is making the calculation that he had to be out there in front and make an active bid for that. I am a little surprised by the timing, but I think the strategy has been clear since the beginning.”
Mr. Tyler downplayed the remarks, suggesting the media response to the comments were overblown.
“It would be news if he said Trump is going to be the nominee,” he said, adding that Mr. Cruz wants to win over voters who are lined up behind various candidates. “Our quest to win over Trump voters is not unique to Trump, but he does have the most voters” based on polls.
Labeled as being a firebrand on Capitol Hill, Mr. Cruz has been overshadowed on the campaign trail by Mr. Trump and the rise of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, all of whom have taken Mr. Cruz’s outsider message one step further by actually being outside of Washington.
Combined, they now lead the polling in Iowa, and Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson are the top two in polling in South Carolina.
Mr. Cruz is lurking just behind them, running fourth in Iowa and third in South Carolina.
But Mr. Cruz also has a built-in base support, which he has demonstrated the last three years by winning straw polls at the annual Value Voters Summit, a gathering of religious conservative grass-roots leaders.
And his fundraising is beginning to impress, with a $12.2 million haul from July through September, far outraising fellow presidential candidates Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who raked in $6 million and $2.5 million, respectively.
Mr. Cruz also has made a point to announce leadership teams well beyond the initial primary and caucus rates, suggesting a campaign built for the long haul.
“We are certainly the best-funded conservative candidate, and we are far and away more organized than any candidate in the field,” Mr. Tyler said.