Former President Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, clashed in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.
Cruz finished second in the race with 551 delegates to Trump’s 1,441 in the heated race.
The two later reconciled and became political allies after Trump won the GOP nomination and later defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the general election.
Six years later the two are set to face off again.
Trump’s late primary endorsement of best-selling author J.D. Vance in Ohio and television’s Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania have put him at odds with the two rival Republican candidates Cruz had previously endorsed, Josh Mandel in Ohio and David McCormick in Pennsylvania.
The Texas senator isn’t back down. In fact, Cruz is visiting Ohio this weekend to support Mandel’s bid — just one week after a Trump-backed rally in support of Vance.
“He makes his own endorsement decisions. I had endorsed Mandel well before President Trump got involved,” Cruz said Wednesday of the clash. Cruz did point out he was also backing “all sorts of candidates all over the country who President Trump is supporting as well.”
Cruz called Mandel the “most conservative and the strongest candidate in the race” but declined to take a shot at Vance and called an open primary election “healthy.”
Trump seeks to assert himself this election year as the GOP’s undisputed kingmaker, and his endorsements are a reminder of the traits that are often most important to him. He demands loyalty from those around him. And the former reality television star-turned-president remains a true believer in the power of celebrity.
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The dynamic is especially clear in Pennsylvania, where Trump endorsed Oz, the celebrity heart surgeon best known as the host of daytime TV’s “The Dr. Oz Show,” over former hedge fund manager McCormick.
Cruz has said he will “probably” head to Pennsylvania soon in support of McCormick’s candidacy.
McCormick had hired two of Trump’s most trusted aides: domestic policy adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller and longtime communications aide and counselor Hope Hicks. (Miller dropped McCormick as soon as Trump announced his support for Oz.) McCormick is also married to Trump’s former deputy national security adviser, Dina Powell, and had the backing of other allies, including former Trump campaign adviser David Urban and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is running for governor in Arkansas.
Kellyanne Conway, who managed Trump’s 2016 campaign and served as White House counselor, also works for McCormick’s super PAC, Honor Pennsylvania, which paid her firm $15,000 last month.
Trump’s alliance with Oz sparked deep frustration among some on his team who signed on with McCormick and believed the former president would, at worst, stay neutral in the primary. But Oz shared a longstanding relationship with Trump, having known him for years and having similarly risen to fame with a television show. In announcing his endorsement, Trump noted Oz “has lived with us through the screen.”
“He’s somebody that had great success on television, which is like the ultimate poll,” Trump told supporters at a teletownhall last week. He noted Oz had the support of Fox News host Sean Hannity and made the case that Oz, who also had the backing of former first lady Melania Trump, was simply best positioned to win the general election this fall.
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Trump gave a similar rationale in Ohio, where he ultimately chose to back Vance, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author and venture capitalist who became a fixture on Fox News and conservative podcasts. He impressed Trump with his performance in a recent GOP debate.
At a rally Saturday night, Trump said he studied the race “very closely” and ”liked a lot of other candidates.” But, he said, “we have to pick the one that’s going to win.”
For now, the power of both Cruz’s and Trump’s endorsements is unclear. Any major loss could deflate Trump’s image as the most powerful force in the party as he weighs a 2024 presidential run — and boost Cruz, whose own presidential ambitions are no secret.
“It’ll be an interesting experiment,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Politico. “Obviously, President Trump and Sen. Cruz have history.”
The clash is “reflective of their respective personal positions and philosophies,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., also told Politico. “They were aligned, but prior to that, they were not. They were rivals. I think it’s pretty cool, it’s pretty healthy.”
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article