- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Donald Trump’s claim that Sen. Ted Cruz is “nasty” and “everybody hates” him in Washington isn’t ringing true with his Senate colleagues, who say he’s a passionate legislator — though they haven’t rushed to embrace the Texan, either.

The first-term senator has yet to land the backing of a single one of his fellow senators in his presidential bid, even as he’s surged in the eyes of GOP primary voters.

Instead, five of his colleagues have backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, four are behind Sen. Marco Rubio, two support former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and one apiece are for Sen. Rand Paul and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, according to the tally at FiveThirtyEight.com.

Mr. Cruz’s colleagues said it wasn’t any sign of disrespect to Mr. Cruz that they’re not behind him at this point, and they disputed Mr. Trump’s characterization.

“I once again don’t know what Donald Trump is talking about,” Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, told The Washington Times — though he was quick to point out he’s one of those backing Mr. Rubio.

Sen. Jeff Session of Alabama, who has befriended both men, attributed Mr. Trump’s attack to the intensity of the “political donnybrook for the nomination.”

“It’s a tough business,” Mr. Sessions told The Times. “But it is not accurate because I like Ted Cruz.”

That’s not to say Mr. Cruz hasn’t been a divisive figure on Capitol Hill.

Last year he called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor.

And in 2013 he was credited with leading the push to try to use the annual spending bills to defund Obamacare — a strategy that resulted in a stalemate with Democrats, President Obama and many of his own fellow Republicans, and led to a 16-day partial government shutdown.

Mr. Sessions defended Mr. Cruz, saying he honored the promise he made to constituents that he would do what he could to end Obamacare.

“It wasn’t the strategy that some of our members wanted to see done, but he did it, and people appreciated it,” Mr. Sessions said. “I think the American people felt like he was a fighter and was standing up for what he said he wanted to do.”

Mr. Cruz followed up the 2013 shutdown with threats to force showdowns over Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty and federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Those moves angered fellow Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and John McCain of Arizona, who believed his efforts — as in 2013 — were doomed from the get-go.

Mr. Graham, who dropped out of the GOP presidential race last year and endorsed Mr. Bush last week, said he takes issue with the way that Mr. Cruz attacked Republicans who didn’t followed his lead.

“He’s a one-term senator, and his biggest accomplishment is basically running other Republicans down,” Mr. Graham said on CNN Tuesday. “At the end of the day, I don’t think he has the maturity, judgment and, quite frankly, the background to be president of the United States.”

He added, “I can’t think of anything he’s done that’s been very constructive.”

Ms. Ayotte’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment on the Trump attack.

Mr. McCain said he doesn’t know whether senators loathe Mr. Cruz because he himself has not done a survey. Pressed for his own opinion, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee answered in a blunt fashion: “I respect Senator Cruz.”

Mr. Cruz’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.

For most of the campaign, Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz had observed a kind of truce. Indeed, Mr. Cruz invited Mr. Trump to speak at a rally protesting Mr. Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, held on the Capitol grounds in September. The two men embraced each other at the time.

But as Mr. Cruz surged in the polls, the two men began to take shots at each other.

Ted is not a person that’s liked,” Mr. Trump said on “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday. “I mean, he’s a nasty guy, and people don’t like him.”

Mr. Trump pointed to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s announcement Tuesday that he wanted to see Mr. Cruz defeated as the latest sign the Texan rubs people the wrong way.

On Capitol Hill Mr. Cruz does have backing from 17 House Republicans, but has been shut out by senators, who overall have been reluctant to get too deeply involved.

Of the 51 Republican senators not seeking the presidency, 13 of them have endorsed a candidate in the GOP field.

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said he has been impressed by Mr. Cruz’s performances in committee meetings, where his legal background has shined through — though he remains uncommitted in the race.

As for Trump’s attack, Mr. Tillis said the New York billionaire “does a good job of stimulating people’s thoughts.”

“I just think that is part of his rhetorical devices that seem to be working for him,” Mr. Tillis said.

But he also said Mr. Cruz might have to rebuild some relationships if elected.

“Anytime when you get into a process where you might have been counter to a colleague, then you have to deal with that colleague,” Mr. Tillis said. “That is one of the factors he will have to deal with based on the decisions he thought were in the best interests of Texas and the United States.”

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, meanwhile, called Mr. Cruz a “friend,” “great leader” and “very, very, intelligent.” But he also is backing Mr. Rubio.

“I look at it as which candidate can inspire and unite this country, and that is why I endorsed Marco Rubio,” Mr. Daines said.

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