CLEVELAND (AP) — Sen. Ted Cruz is refusing to condemn a rebellion against Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention as the fiery Texas conservative weighs his political future against the prospect of a national Republican embarrassment.
Cruz's continued public silence, as his loyalists actively plotted to undermine Trump on Thursday, irked Trump allies and Republican leaders alike, all eager to avoid a public spectacle when the four-day gathering formally begins on Monday. Yet having accepted a speaking slot on the main stage, there are signs the 45-year-old senator is willing to cooperate with Trump's campaign — privately, at least — even as he works to sustain his popularity among anti-Trump conservatives.
Activists loyal to Cruz on Thursday waged a messy battle over convention rules that could free delegates to disregard the results of state-by-state primary contests, among other changes. The rebels face long odds, but even a small rebellion could embarrass the Trump campaign and party leaders during an event designed to demonstrate party unity.
"Cruz could put a stop to it," said Iowa Republican national committeeman Steve Scheffler.
"He's not building any good will," added Steve Duprey, Scheffler's counterpart in New Hampshire.
Yet both Trump and Cruz camps suggest that they are working together more than many believe.
Cruz will not openly encourage an outright rebellion to unbind delegates under any circumstances, according to advisers for both camps. And beyond that, he has signaled a willingness to lean on troublesome delegates privately to ensure a smooth convention if necessary.
The advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share private discussions. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort disputed the notion that the Texas senator isn't doing enough to stop the rebels.
"Cruz and Trump got along very well for most of the primary season," Manafort told The Associated Press on Thursday. "The party's coming together."
Any cooperation may be born from the fact that Trump controls the speaking program for the national convention, an unrivaled opportunity to connect with millions of party activists and average voters alike.
Trump offered Cruz a speaking slot earlier in the month, an attempt to unite a divided party, even after Cruz assailed Trump as a "pathological liar" and "a narcissist at a level I don't think this country has ever seen" during the presidential primary season. The charges came after Trump mocked Cruz's wife's appearance and stoked speculation that Cruz's father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Despite continued bad blood, Cruz's team is eager to brand the senator as the face of the modern conservative movement ahead of a second presidential run in 2020 should Trump lose in November.
Cruz's team is drafting a convention speech that will focus on adherence to the Constitution, a calling card for conservatives and a potential contrast with Trump.
"Cruz will be a voice and a representative for the conservative movement that he has always championed and long been a leader of," said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. "Our country is facing enormous challenges, and conservatives should not shy away from defending the principles we believe in and charting a better path forward."
Yet Trump's team maintains the right to approve — and re-write — Cruz's remarks in what is expected to be a carefully scripted convention. The speech will be among the week's most closely watched moments.
"I'm anxious to hear him speak and see what guidance he provides to, I'll call them the 'Cruz army,'" said Ken Cope, a Republican delegate from Texas.
Indeed, Cruz failed to defeat Trump in the contentious primary season, but he mobilized an army of volunteers along with an extensive donor base that helped him amass more than $91 million. He also won 12 states and collected more than 560 delegates.
"Ted Cruz is going to come in as the de facto leader of the conservative movement — and probably have more delegates on the floor than any candidate, including Trump, that are truly committed to him," said Saul Anuzis, a Cruz loyalist and Republican delegate.
"It is a brilliant move on Trump's part to have him speak, because he needs the conservatives," Anuzis said.
Cruz, meanwhile, is scheduled to appear in Cleveland on Friday to deliver private remarks to the Council for National Policy, an influential conservative group. A spokesman said he's not expected to meet with Trump campaign officials while he's in town.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report from Cleveland.