Tensions between Cruz, Bushes underscore deeper party divide

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Ted Cruz once proudly wore a belt buckle borrowed from George H.W. Bush that said "President of the United States."

He campaigned and worked for that former president's son, former President George W. Bush. And the endorsement of George P. Bush, the family's latest rising political star and son of Jeb Bush, lent credibility to Cruz's 2012 Senate campaign.

Now, though, Cruz is a top Republican candidate for president, ahead of fellow contender Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida.

The rise of Cruz highlights a deeper Republican Party struggle between insurgent conservative outsiders and the old guard establishment in which the Bushes, one of the nation's pre-eminent political families, play a major role.

"There is this question of, 'When are the adults going to come in and change the race?' I think the adults are at the table. I certainly consider myself one," said Mica Mosbacher, a prominent Cruz fundraiser whose late husband, Robert, was secretary of commerce under George H.W. Bush. "Some people are still in denial."

Cruz supporters point to October, when George W. Bush said of Cruz to a roomful of donors: "I just don't like that guy."

"I think it hurt him," Mosbacher said of the former president. "He failed to have his finger on the pulse."

Ray Sullivan, who was national spokesman for George W. Bush's 2000 campaign, conceded that it was somewhat unusual for George W. Bush to openly criticize a fellow Republican. But he also said the comment "underscores a highly competitive, multicandidate race and different segments of the Republican Party."

Cruz hasn't retaliated, but being criticized by George W. Bush delighted his tea party base. Since then, Cruz's candidacy has risen in the polls, while Jeb Bush's bid has struggled.

Clay Johnson III, a friend of George W. Bush and former top budget official in his administration, said he recently spent time with the former president and they discussed how many of the crowded field of Republican candidates "have no idea at all about what's involved in being president."

Cruz held jobs in the Bush administration in the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission and, on the verge of the 2004 Republican National Convention, wrote a chapter in "Thank You, President Bush," a book meant to answer "Bush-haters." In it, Cruz likened George W. Bush to Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and wrote that some fiscal conservatives decried Bush for increased government spending, but "those concerns are often overstated."

In his own autobiography published last year, however, Cruz made it clear his views had changed, criticizing Bush for excessive federal spending.

Before his 2012 Senate bid, Cruz explored running for Texas attorney general. In the autobiography, he detailed how George H.W. Bush agreed to endorse that campaign. But Cruz wrote that Karl Rove, a top strategist for George W. Bush, pressured him not to publicize that.

Rove disputed the book's assertion last year, prompting the Cruz campaign to release 2009 emails from Rove that it said backed up Cruz's account.

Cruz wrote that George H.W. Bush had wanted to call him "the future of the Republican Party." Three years later, Bush's grandson, George P., used those same words to praise Cruz during his Senate run.

Through his office as Texas land commissioner, George P. Bush declined to comment, but he has said he still considers Cruz a friend, even if he's now campaigning for his father instead.

Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist, called the falling-out between Cruz and the Bushes "a good example of the battle for the heart and soul" of the Republican Party.