President Trump heads to Texas to stump for old foe Sen. Ted Cruz

WASHINGTON – One of the political world’s most fractious couples gets together again Monday in Texas.

President Donald Trump heads to Houston to stump for embattled incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, the latest phase in a political relationship that has gone from warm to bad to tolerable.

“Ted Cruz has become a friend of mine,” Trump said during a politically rally over the weekend in Missoula, Montana – never mind that Trump once nicknamed him “Lyin’ Ted,” insulted his wife, and suggested his rival’s father was somehow involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination.

For his part, Cruz has expressed his support for the president, though he recently declined to describe Trump as either friend or foe.

“He’s the president,” Cruz said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “I work with the president in delivering on our promises.”

Perhaps Cruz still remembers describing Trump as a “pathological liar.”

The two men are apt to be all smiles Monday night at the Toyota Center in Houston. They have a common interest in holding the Texas Senate seat for Republicans, as Cruz faces a well-funded challenge from his Democratic opponent, Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

With Cruz moving up in polls – Real Clear Politics’ average of recent surveys gives him a 7 percentage point lead – many political analysts have suggested Trump is traveling to Texas in order to take credit Cruz’s expected victory on Nov. 6.

“He wants to look like the guy who got to bail out Cruz,” said Rick Tyler, an aide to the Texas senator during his 2016 presidential bid. “It’s just a transactional relationship.”

Many Republicans criticized Trump during his rise to the presidency in 2016 – Cruz included – but in 2018, many have welcomed him back to the campaign trail as the GOP struggles to keep control of Congress.

Trump, ever the campaigner, is happy to help as he loads up his schedule with rally after rally. He needs all the Republican lawmakers he can get to move his agenda.

And candidates like Cruz need votes from Trump supporters who might be inclined to stay home for the midterms because the president himself is not on the ballot.

“This is a marvelous example of how principles in politics last only until the next election,” said Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

The pair have periodically made a show of friendship. In March 2017, the Texas senator, his wife Heidi and their two daughters had dinner at the White House.

But there are indications, however, that the two aren’t particularly close, and that memories of the 2016 bloodletting linger.

Early in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Cruz passed up repeated opportunities to criticize Trump as the New York businessman led all pre-primary polls. Aides at the time noted that Trump was busy attacking all of their other mutual opponents.

Trump, too, declined to attack Cruz – at first. But that changed as Cruz began moving up in polls ahead of the Iowa caucuses, the first contest on the Republican nomination calendar.

At that point, Trump began questioning whether Cruz, born in Canada, was eligible to be president and to note that other senators didn’t like him. “Lyin’ Ted” became part of the campaign lexicon.

Cruz responded by hitting Trump for “New York values” and describing him as a liberal on social issues like abortion.

The Republican race boiled down mainly to a contest between Trump and Cruz, upping their rhetoric and rivalry. While Trump won most of the GOP primaries, Cruz defeated him in Iowa and Wisconsin, and became the challenger with the best chance of denying Trump a majority of delegates headed into the Republican National Convention.

At that point, Trump unleashed some of his most vicious attacks of the campaign on Cruz. At one point, he cited a highly questionable National Enquirer story suggesting that Cruz’s father Rafael was part of a JFK assassination plot.

In March 2016, Trump tweeted out an unflattering photo of Cruz’s wife, Heidi, beside a glamour shot of Melania Trump, a former professional model.

“The images are worth 1,000 words,” the tweet said.

Cruz lashed back with equally harsh comments about Trump.

“This man is a pathological liar,” he said at one point. “A narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.”

Just for good measure, Cruz described Trump as “utterly amoral” and “a serial philanderer.”

When Cruz withdrew from the race after a crushing loss to Trump in the Indiana primary in May 2016 , he refused to endorse his rival. Even at the July convention in Cleveland, as boos from Trump delegates rained down, Cruz urged Republicans to vote their conscience.

By September, Cruz offered a tepid endorsement of Trump via Facebook page.

During his ABC interview on Sunday, Cruz said “2016 was an election unlike any other,” but there is no point in taking things personally when it comes to dealing with Trump.

“If I put my own personal hurt feelings ahead of representing Texas,” Cruz said, “that would be abdicating my responsibility.”

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