President Donald Trump spoke warmly of his former foe, Sen. Ted Cruz, while en route to Houston on Monday to campaign for the incumbent Republican.
“He’s not lying Ted anymore. He’s beautiful Ted,” Trump told reporters on the White House South Lawn before his departure.
Trump’s warm comments are a far cry from the 2016 primary campaign, when the two presidential candidates attacked each other at length. Trump nicknamed Cruz “lyin’ Ted,” implied without evidence that Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and ridiculed Cruz’s wife, Heidi, for her looks.
Cruz, for his part, called Trump a “sniveling coward” who sends “nasty tweets” and a “pathological liar.” He also refused to endorse Trump at the Republican nominating convention.
A presidential visit in reliably red Texas is rare just 15 days out from midterm elections, but Cruz has found himself in a closer re-election battled than anticipated against Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who Trump attacked on Monday. The Real Clear Politics average of polls finds Cruz leading by 7 percentage points.
“I think Beto O’Rourke is highly overrated,” Trump said. “I thought he got beaten badly in debates.”
O’Rourke has captured national Democrats’ attention with his boyish charm and Kennedy-esque looks. He’s stunned political operatives on both sides of the aisles by raking in over $38 million in campaign donations in the most recent fundraising quarter.
“If Beto pulls off beating Cruz, he would become a national Democrat immediately,” said James Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “He would enter the 2020 conversation.”
As for the bad blood between Trump and Cruz, Henson says there is good reason for Trump to put that aside.
“Texas is important to the Electoral College and the Republican universe,” Henson said. “If there is any sign of Texas becoming more competitive, then I think a Republican presidential candidate has a lot of incentive to come and make sure things are shored up here.”