AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In finishing the Republican presidential race well ahead of Donald Trump's other rivals, Ted Cruz is likely to be a leading GOP voice for the foreseeable future.
Less clear is whether Cruz harnesses that clout to boost Trump's White House bid — after all the bad blood between them — or simply solidifies his place as a champion of conservative causes, Senate troublemaker and star of Texas politics.
"There's no question" Cruz remains No. 1 in Texas despite falling to Trump nationally, says political consultant Matt Mackowiak, who's based in the state.
"There's no bigger draw, there's no one whose endorsement means more, there's no one who has a larger organization," Mackowiak said. "To me right now, he is the Texas leader, and the national leader, of the conservative movement. That wasn't the case when the race started."
In the Senate, Cruz infuriated leaders in both parties instead of working cooperatively on legislation and other issues. He incited House conservatives, who helped take down John Boehner as House speaker, and he can be expected to resume those allegiances, and his show-horse ways, in using the Senate as a platform for a possible 2020 presidential bid.
"Clearly, he didn't come here to remain in the Senate," John Cornyn, Texas' senior senator and Senate majority whip, recently told a Dallas TV station. "He came here to run for president."
During his White House campaign, Cruz reveled in, rather than toned down, his bomb-throwing mentality, an approach that left many Republican colleagues disdainful of him when he was the last viable alternative to Trump.
As a mostly powerless first-term senator, though, Cruz used his short time in Washington before running for president to frame contentious national issues in ways that boosted his political career. His all-night quasi-filibuster failed to stop President Barack Obama's health care law but caused a national stir. The 2013 government shutdown he helped force didn't advance GOP goals but made Cruz a hero in conservative grassroots circles.
Brendan Steinhauser, a former tea party organizer who later managed Cornyn's 2014 re-election campaign, said Cruz can succeed with more of the same: "I think he has to continue to fight and be who he is."
"There's obviously a lot more people paying attention to him as a senator," Steinhauser said. "I think he's got some political capital. It's how you decide to spend it."
Meantime Cruz's place atop the political heap in the largest conservative state is secure. Both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick enthusiastically endorsed his presidential bid.
Cruz isn't expected to face a serious Republican primary challenge when he's up for Senate re-election in 2018. The primary race is probably the only one that will matter because a Democrat hasn't won statewide office in Texas in 21 years.
Patrick served as the Cruz campaign's Texas chairman and suggested that if Trump wins the presidency, he should tap Cruz to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
"It is my hope that after a few weeks, Trump and Cruz meet," Patrick wrote on Facebook. "The race between the two had been very heated but I hope they can mend fences sooner than later."
An immediate endorsement from Cruz seems unlikely. Cruz didn't mention the now presumptive Republican presidential nominee during his concession speech Tuesday, which came hours after Cruz unloaded on Trump, calling him "utterly amoral," a "pathological liar" and a "serial philanderer."
Cruz's relationship with Trump worsened during the presidential campaign. After calling him "terrific" and avoiding conflict as some of the other GOP White House contenders criticized the front-runner and saw their popularity plummet, Cruz finally went after the billionaire in January. But Cruz saved his harshest and most personal words for the morning of what turned out to be his last day as a candidate.
Cruz could have continued campaigning through the end of the Republican primary season, but weeks of facing more harsh criticism from Trump might have tarnished him before a possible second presidential bid — especially if Hillary Clinton wins the White House in November.
Not endorsing Trump could prove wise should the New Yorker lose the general election handily. Cruz supporter Shak Hill, who ran for U.S. Senate in Virginia in 2014, said he'd rather not hear Cruz mention Trump again.
"For Senator Cruz, and other like-minded conservatives like me, a short-term endorsement would violate a longtime principle and fight," Hill said. He said Cruz should not speak in opposition to Trump "but I would absolutely not endorse. Principles matter."
Bauer reported from Indianapolis.