WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz is increasingly winning over voters to his presidential bid. He's still not winning over fellow Republican senators.
The Texas Republican is notorious for alienating his colleagues with tactics including pushing a fruitless government shutdown in 2013 and accusing the Senate majority leader of lying. They're now paying it back by refusing to get on board with his presidential bid even as he emerges as the likeliest alternative to businessman Donald Trump following a commanding win Tuesday night in Wisconsin.
"I just haven't heard any talk about it," responded Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a senior Republican, when asked whether Republican colleagues would be gravitating toward Cruz.
"I will tell you that wasn't the chatter," said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., after emerging from a closed-door GOP lunch.
"I don't see any rush to judgment," remarked Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, a four-term lawmaker.
Of Cruz's frosty relations with his colleagues, Roberts said: "I think that's obvious. That's just the way it is. But in the end result I think all of us would like to support the nominee and do the best we can."
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has made a half-hearted endorsement of Cruz, predicted Wednesday that more establishment support would be swinging behind the Texas freshman senator. Graham, a short-lived candidate himself, is advancing the argument that while the erratic Trump would destroy the GOP for generations to come by turning off women and minorities, Cruz is at least a reliable Republican with a steady foreign policy outlook who shares his colleagues' views on most issues.
"I think some of Ted's tactics have hurt the party but the overall vision is far more common," Graham said.
Although Graham also contends Cruz could be electable, his argument for backing Cruz is being dubbed by some pundits the "Lose With Cruz" movement.
And it's falling on deaf ears with some colleagues.
"Not yet," said GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, when asked if he'd be backing Cruz. "I'm no fan of Donald Trump, I think I've said that before," Flake added. "But this isn't over. John Kasich is still in the race, no candidate is likely to have the necessary votes and so I wouldn't discount Kasich or something else happening."
Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, one of the more vulnerable incumbents in November, said of Cruz's chances of wooing fellow Republican senators: "I would say a slow process with a lot of romance and a lot of discussion would be necessary." Kirk then demurred on whether he himself would get there.
"I've been strictly staying out of the presidential because it's just a minefield for me," he said.
Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican who previously supported GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, told reporters that "Donald Trump is still not going to be the nominee" and "I don't see a path for Kasich," the Ohio governor who lagged Cruz and Trump in Wisconsin. Talk of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., or another outsider scooping up the nomination in a convention fight? "I think that's nonsense," Gardner said.
Nonetheless, he was reluctant to commit to Cruz.
"Any nominee is going to have to earn my support," Gardner added. "Just like they'll have to earn the support of the delegates this weekend in Colorado," when the state convention officially chooses its delegates.
Endangered GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who has tangled publicly with Cruz over his failed efforts to "defund" both the health care law and Planned Parenthood, sidestepped when asked if she's coming around to the idea that Cruz will be the nominee.
"I'm coming around to more like, 'It looks like it will be a very interesting convention,' " Ayotte said.
Cruz himself has lumped in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, with other GOP leaders as part of the "Washington cartel." But campaigning Wednesday in New York City, Cruz claimed that his Wisconsin win would be a "turning point" that showed Republicans were coming together to stand united. The election, he said, "is about unity."
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo in New York contributed to this report.
Erica Werner And Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press