- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The chairman of Ted Cruz’s campaign in Kansas said Thursday that the Texas senator has “harmed himself immeasurably” by not endorsing Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee. GOP Gov. Sam Brownback also expressed disappointment.

Kansas state Rep. Mark Kahrs of Wichita said he was disappointed in Cruz because the senator had the opportunity in his convention speech to “provide unity to our party and strengthen the ticket.” Kahrs said he admires Cruz as a true conservative.

In telephone interviews from the GOP convention in Cleveland, Kahrs and Brownback said Republicans must focus on preventing presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton from becoming president. Both cited potential appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court by the next president as a key issue.

Kahrs called Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump “a clear mistake” and said if the Republican nominee loses, “This is a speech that Sen. Cruz will never live down.”

“I really think that what happened last night with Ted Cruz’s speech will be looked back upon in 2020 in the same light that we looked back on (New Jersey Gov.) Chris Christie when he gave that public hug to Obama during the 2012 presidential election,” Kahrs said. “It harmed Christie. It never went away.”

Brownback said he wasn’t sure how much Cruz damaged his future. He acknowledged Republicans had a contentious presidential contest in which candidates said “a lot of personal things.” But he said Cruz “made a pledge” to support the eventual nominee.

“There was a point in time in the campaign where we were all pushing on Trump to declare he wouldn’t start a third party if he didn’t win - and then he did win,” Brownback said.

The governor endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio before Kansas’ presidential caucuses in March but since has said repeatedly he’s backing Trump, though Brownback was not a convention delegate. Kahrs, an attorney, was a Cruz delegate and will start a four-year term on the Republican National Committee on Friday.

The Kansas GOP’s rules bound 24 of the state’s 40 delegates to vote for Cruz when Trump was formally nominated Tuesday. Nine delegates voted for Trump, six for Rubio, and one for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

But prominent Kansas Republicans backed Trump going into the convention, and state GOP Chairman Kelly Arnold said in a texted statement Wednesday night that Cruz’s refusal to endorse the nominee created “general disappointment” in the delegation. Several delegates expressed disappointment in messages to The Associated Press.

“I interpret it as him saying that he is OK with Trump losing and is looking at his bid for 2020,” Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Trump delegate and early Kansas backer of the New York businessman, said during an interview.

But the feeling of disappointment wasn’t universal. Dalton Glasscock, a Cruz delegate from Wichita who previously worried about the convention being a “coronation,” texted after the Texas senator’s speech, “Amazing. True leadership.”

Later, Glasscock added: “I support it 100%. If someone feels they can vote for Trump, great. If they can’t, vote for someone they can believe in. He left the door open to more.”

Kahrs acknowledged that he’s previously been candid about not being “a big fan” of Trump during the campaign but said Thursday that Trump sent strong, favorable signals to the GOP’s conservative base by naming Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate.

“We have a nominating process,” Kahrs said. “We’ve produced a nominee, and that person is Donald Trump, and he’s the only person who stands between Hillary Clinton becoming president.”

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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