WASHINGTON (AP) — After spending months rehashing the brutal GOP primary campaign and bragging about his victory, President Donald Trump has quietly launched a charm offensive, reaching out to former rivals whose help he now needs.
The latest on his list: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has said he has significant concerns about the GOP health care bill Trump is pushing for passage. The president and first lady hosted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, and their two daughters for dinner Wednesday night — a day after Trump broke bread with Sen. Lindsay Graham, another rival, over lunch.
Trump has also been spending time with Sen. Marco Rubio, giving him a ride to Florida on Air Force One last week and hosting him and his wife for dinner at the White House. He met recently with Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, hosted Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and his wife for Valentine’s Day meatloaf, and had a working lunch with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin — all former campaign foes.
The meetings come as Trump continues to lob unsupported accusations at his predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama, alienating a potential source of guidance as he’s turned his focus toward selling a legislative agenda that he’ll need every possible ally to pass.
That means wooing former rivals like Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul, whom Trump has spoken to several times since taking office, including this week, said Paul’s spokesman Sergio Gor.
But the 2016 Republican campaign was uniquely brutal, leading to some awkward interactions.
During the campaign, Trump not only went after Cruz, giving him the nickname ‘Lyin’ Ted,’ questioning his faith and bizarrely suggesting his father may have been involved in the Kennedy assassination. He also went after Cruz’s wife, re-tweeting an unflattering photo of her next to his wife and threatening to “spill the beans” on her.
Cruz responded by calling Trump “a sniveling coward” and labeling him a “pathological liar” and “utterly amoral.” Cruz also declined to endorse Trump in his Republican Convention speech.
Press secretary Sean Spicer ignored a question Wednesday about whether the president intended to apologize to Heidi Cruz, saying instead: “I think they’re looking forward to a great dinner.”
“This is a president that’s going to engage with everybody that can help join in proposing ideas and thoughts and opinions on how to move the country forward. So he looks forward to dinner tonight with Senator and Mrs. Cruz as he has with several others,” he said.
Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders noted the president has been holding meeting after meeting as he tries to sell the health care bill. “I think there’s outreach to most of Congress,” she said.
Cruz, who met with the president a week after the election, seemed equally willing to bury the hatchet. He told reporters ahead of the dinner that the president had called him several weeks ago and invited him and his family to dinner, and said, “we’re very much looking forward to it.”
“It’s principally a social dinner but I’m sure the conversation will turn to the repeal of Obamacare and I have serious concerns about the House bill as drafted. I do not believe the House bill as currently drafted would pass the Senate,” he said.
Trump has in the past marveled at politicians’ abilities to move on, even after brutal election campaigns.
“It’s a very strange phenomenon,” he recently told Fox News, describing his ability to get along with Obama, despite their nasty election rivalry as Obama campaigned on behalf of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“What amazed me is that I was vicious to him in statements, he was vicious to me in statements, and here we are getting along, we’re riding up Pennsylvania Avenue, talk — we don’t even mention it,” he said. “I guess that’s the world of politics.”
Trump’s latest unsupported claim on Twitter that Obama ordered wiretaps on Trump, has apparently chilled those relations a bit.
Even Graham, one of Trump’s fiercest critics during the primary, seems to agree with the idea of moving past the campaign rhetoric.
After their lunch, Graham praised Trump, saying he was “strongly committed to rebuilding our military which is music to my ears. President Trump is in deal-making mode and I hope Congress is like-minded.”
Graham also appeared to forgive the president for once reading out his personal cellphone number to a rally crowd.
“How good was the meeting? I gave him my NEW cell phone number,” Graham tweeted.
Jason Miller, who worked for Trump’s campaign and transition, said that Cruz and other past rivals are eager to find ways to work together.
“I think there’s a feeling of optimism and confidence that we can actually pass a conservative agenda,” he said.
Yet there is one rival candidate who has yet to make nice with the president: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
While Bush has been in touch with members of the Trump administration, he has yet to make an appearance with Trump and his spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said he has no immediate plans to dine with the president.