DALLAS — Ted Cruz took to his home state on Saturday to suggest times ahead for the Republican Party will be "challenging," continuing to distance himself from backing Donald Trump ahead of this summer’s GOP national convention.
"We may face some challenging days ahead," Cruz told the Texas GOP Convention in Dallas. "But I am convinced that movement — the men and women gathered here — will be the remnant, will be the core of pulling this country back from the abyss.”
Two months from the national convention, Cruz has presented little evidence to suggest he will back Trump, the GOP’s presumptive nominee, in a general election square-off against Hillary Clinton.
Cruz said in February, when he was still in the race, that he was "not willing to gamble my daughters' futures with Donald Trump." Since then he has shown little inclination to fulfilling the pledge he took last year to support his party’s eventual nominee, calling his rival amoral, a narcissist and a sniveling coward.
Texas Republican party elder and former chairman Steve Munisteri said on Saturday the party needs Cruz and his supporters to rally behind Trump.
"We do need [Cruz] here in Texas — this state is more competitive than people think it is," Munisteri told NBC News. "But more importantly, Ted Cruz has led a national movement, a conservative movement. We certainly need solid conservatives to be behind our nominee.”
A defeat in Texas, where Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 16 percentage points in 2012, would likely be a serious blow to Trump. But the hesitancy among some Cruz supporters poses a more distinct threat in potential swing states crucial to giving Trump any chance at entering the White House.
Last month on the campaign trail, Cruz suggested the GOP would lose the Senate and potentially the House in what would end in a "bloodbath" for Republicans if Trump becomes the nominee.
This week, Cruz shifted his focus to pushing forward the "conservative movement," as he called it.
"My commitment is to principles that matter," Cruz said in Washington, D.C.
Cruz acquired more than seven million votes in the three months since his Iowa caucus victory. But among Cruz’s Texas fleet of supporters, there is a stark divide in whether Cruz loyalists should hand their allegiances to Trump, even begrudgingly.
"I will not vote for [Trump] — and the Republican Party had better straighten up or they're going to lose me too," said Carolyn Kistner, a Cruz volunteer from Midlothian, Texas. "They're going to lose so many other conservatives because they are no longer conservative.”
Kistner, who says she will write in Cruz’s name in November, added: "The lesser of two evils is still evil."
But friends Maryanne Stavinoha of Liverpool and Billie Dixon of Alvin, both of whom worked on Cruz’s “strike force” in four states during the primary, said they are turning to Trump even if Cruz opts not to back him.
“It’ll be a hard decision for me, but ultimately, the alternative – I don’t want to go through Hillary,” Stavinoha said outside the convention hall.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a surrogate for Trump, spoke after Cruz and encouraged the Texas delegation to “put this primary behind us.”
“We can and will unite all Republicans,” Sessions said, adding: “Let’s welcome back our Independents and our Reagan Democrats.”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas met with Trump in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, tweeting a photo of them smiling together.
Cruz said this week it is not his place to tell the voters how to vote. Instead, he said he would continue to advocate for the direction of the party’s policy positions.
Trump commented earlier this week that his campaign proposals were merely “suggestions,” not definitive positions.
Cruz seemed to subtly knock Trump’s statement during his Saturday remarks.
“Last time I checked, the Bill of Rights wasn’t a bill of suggestions,” Cruz demurred from the stage.
Cruz did not mention Trump by name from the stage and did not allude to his former competitor.
But meanwhile, Cruz’s campaign in states across the country is actively working to place Cruz-backed delegates onto this summer’s RNC platform committee, in order to ensure the party’s positions more closely align with Cruz’s ideas of conservatism.
Cruz reflected on what might have been, praising his wife and telling the crowd: “Wouldn’t Heidi have made an amazing First Lady.”
And he acknowledged the fate of his running mate, Carly Fiorina, fell with his own: “Carly would have made a phenomenal vice president -- and she just might some day in the future."