WASHINGTON (AP) — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s cozy relationship with billionaire businessman Donald Trump is drawing new attention as the Republican presidential contenders prepare to headline a Capitol Hill rally.
At Cruz’s invitation, Trump will appear with the Texas senator at a Wednesday event organized by tea party leaders and pro-Israel groups protesting the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran. It’s the latest example of Cruz warming to the former reality television star, despite their competition for the same group of anti-establishment conservatives.
“An awful lot of presidential candidates have gone out of their way to take a stick to Donald Trump,” Cruz told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I am not one of them.”
Instead, Cruz tapped Trump to share the stage with him Wednesday for a Washington rally also expected to feature former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin; former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, a GOP presidential candidate; conservative broadcast personality Glenn Beck; and several Republican members of Congress. The event is set to begin at 1 p.m. Organizers would not predict how many protesters might attend, but they’re expecting a rowdy atmosphere outside the Capitol as Congress debates the Iran deal inside.
The day gives Trump an opportunity to address foreign policy less than a week after he struggled to answer basic questions about key players in the Middle East during a radio interview. It’s unlikely, however, that the former reality television star will have to address policy details at the protest.
In an editorial published Monday on the USA Today website, Trump offered his trademark bombast, calling the deal “amateur hour” and said it demonstrates “the total incompetence of our president and politicians.”
The protest won’t change the ultimate approval of the international agreement, which has been clear for days: Even if a disapproval resolution should pass the House and Senate this week, President Barack Obama would veto it, and Democrats have the votes in hand to sustain his veto.
Cruz says he invited Trump simply to attract more attention to objections to the “catastrophic” deal. “Wherever Donald goes, the media follow in droves,” Cruz said.
The appearance also highlights the unique relationship between Trump and Cruz, a tea party hero who helped shut the federal government in 2013 and ultimately needs the same frustrated voters who have pushed Trump to a surprising lead in early polls. As his Republican competitors turn against Trump, Cruz has offered only praise. The strategy could pay dividends for Cruz in the coming months.
“Cruz seems to be the only one willing to stand with Trump,” said tea party co-founder Mark Meckler.
“Cruz has positioned himself to scoop up Trump supporters, should Trump begin to fade,” Meckler continued. “Yet with each passing day, the Trump fade seems less and less likely. Could we be seeing a Trump-Cruz ticket in the making?”
Trump has fewer and fewer allies in the packed 2016 contest. Among other presidential contenders, Rick Perry called Trump a “cancer” on conservatism and Rand Paul has called attention to the billionaire’s friendship with Democrats Hillary and Bill Clinton.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign released an Instagram video clip on the eve of the rally using Trump’s words against him. Asked in a former CNN interview who he’d like to represent the U.S. in a deal with Iran, Trump responded, “I think Hillary would do a good job.”
Trump has aggressively criticized several Republican competitors – Bush among them – although he has so far avoided lashing out at Cruz. In a recent South Carolina appearance, however, Trump said he would turn against Cruz if he starts to get too close in the polls.
For now, however, Trump has a commanding lead.
Don’t expect any Republican infighting at Wednesday’s rally, where the speakers will be united in opposition to the Iran deal.
The agreement struck by Iran, the U.S., China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany in July would provide Iran hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions in exchange for a decade of constraints on the country’s nuclear program. The deal aims to keep Iran at least a year away from being able to produce enough nuclear material for a weapon.
“Look, I like Donald Trump,” Cruz said, “and I am glad Donald Trump is in this election.”