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Story highlights

Several members of the Bush family have been clear of their distaste of Donald Trump

Jeb Bush's endorsement could help open up a network of donors for Cruz

(CNN) —  

Jeb Bush endorsed Ted Cruz on Wednesday morning, calling his former rival for the Republican presidential nomination a “principled conservative” and urging fellow Republicans to reject Donald Trump as the next GOP nominee.

“Ted is a consistent, principled conservative who has demonstrated the ability to appeal to voters and win primary contests,” Bush said in a statement provided to CNN. “Washington is broken, and the only way Republicans can hope to win back the White House and put our nation on a better path is to support a nominee who can articulate how conservative policies will help people rise up and reach their full potential.”

Bush’s endorsement of the Texas senator comes one month after he ended his own bid for the GOP presidential nomination – a campaign that failed to gain support in the shadow of Trump’s oversized personality and a fractured field that, at one time, had 17 Republican candidates actively pursuing the White House. During the campaign, Bush did not cloak his contempt for Trump, who he described as a “bully” and “not a conservative.”

On Wednesday, Bush again emphasized his disapproval of Trump, the GOP front-runner, and warned that if the New York businessman secures the Republican nomination, Democrats will win the White House in November.

“For the sake of our party and country, we must move to overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena, or we will certainly lose our chance to defeat the Democratic nominee and reverse President Obama’s failed policies,” Bush said in the statement.

Trump responded Wednesday afternoon, using Twitter to dismiss the endorsement to dismiss the Bush endorsement.

“I think having Jeb’s endorsement hurts Lyin’ Ted. Jeb spent more than $150,000,000 and got nothing. I spent a fraction of that and am first,” Trump tweeted.

Family affair

The former Florida governor’s endorsement follows that of his brother, Neil, who joined Cruz’s finance team earlier this month.

“We need a candidate that can unify the party, work with (House Speaker) Paul Ryan, move a reform-minded agenda forward,” Neil Bush said in a March 16 interview on CNN’s “New Day.” “And Ted Cruz is the only guy in the race to do that.”

Several members of the Bush family have been clear about their distaste of Trump, who has been critical of President George W. Bush’s stewardship of the nation and Jeb Bush’s low-key personality.

In February, the matriarch of the Bush family, former first lady Barbara Bush, told CNN that she’s “sick of him” and that Trump had said “terrible things about women, terrible things about the military.”

And last week, former first lady Laura Bush, George W. Bush’s wife, declined to answer a question from USA Today about whether she would vote for Trump if he were the Republican nominee. She added that it was important for Americans to not be “isolationist and xenophobic,” an apparent reference to Trump’s rhetoric and positions.

Neil Bush noted in the CNN “New Day” interview that John Kasich’s decision to remain in the race will aid Trump in securing the nomination, a sentiment echoed by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. A new CNN/ORC poll shows that 7 in 10 Republicans say that the Ohio governor should leave the race because he is not able to win the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the GOP nomination.

Kasich factor

While Jeb Bush did not mention Kasich in his endorsement of Cruz, the Florida governor’s public support is a signal that he, too, thinks the Ohio governor should leave the race.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols responded to the endorsement news on Wednesday, saying, “If he were a king maker, he’d be the king.”

Nonetheless, it is another example of a prominent Republican lining up behind the Texas senator, who has publicly feuded with the GOP establishment ever since he won election in 2012.

Establishment embrace?

Neil Bush acknowledged that Cruz has rubbed some Republicans the wrong way, but said his willingness to to help the Texas senator raise money was based on pragmatism.

“I commit this from my head, not my heart,” Neil Bush said in the CNN “New Day” interview. “If you come at it from the heart, Ted Cruz has offended a lot of people that I’m sure my brothers both know and have worked well with. And he’s perceived by some to be kind of, you know, an arrogant guy, I guess.”

“But I like Ted,” he continued. “He’s my senator here in Texas. He went to Washington to disrupt Washington. He’s clearly been disruptive. Nobody seems to like him that much. But the party will unify around him because instead of running as an outsider, he’s going to be the president and he’s going to help lead the Congress to making these critical reforms and building up our military readiness.”

Even Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina senator who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 GOP nomination, has pledged his support to Cruz. Graham and Cruz are far from friendly in the Senate hallways.

Possible fundraising boon

Jeb Bush’s endorsement could help open up a network of donors who powered the Florida governor’s campaign to shatter presidential fundraising records, as well as offer Cruz additional validation with Republican elites whose relationships with the Texas senator have alternated between frigid and icy. It is unclear if Jeb Bush would actively take a role in Cruz’s campaign, whether that be raising money or speaking on his behalf.

The endorsement strengthens a tie that has weakened over the past decade between Cruz, the new leader of the Texas conservative movement, and the Bush family, which has been the leading powerbroker in Texas politics for two decades. Cruz worked as a young aide on then-Gov. George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, and then briefly in his administration, but his relationship with the family has been turbulent.

Cruz has long had a close relationship with Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Jeb Bush’s son, as the two rose through the ranks of Texas politics. Yet President George W. Bush has nevertheless sharply clashed with Cruz’s firebrand style of politics, telling donors last year that he just “didn’t like the guy.”

Not Rubio

There was much speculation that Jeb Bush would endorse Marco Rubio, a one-time close political ally turned rival after the former Florida governor exited the race. But Bush did not offer his support to Rubio, who left the race after losing to Trump in the Florida primary.

Now, Jeb Bush is backing a candidate cut from a far different cloth. When Bush was in the race, Cruz donors and allies frequently spoke of him as stodgy and deeply out-of-touch with the conservative party on issues like immigration. Bush favors a path to legal status for those currently living in this country illegally. Cruz wants to deport them and never let them return.

“I’m truly honored to earn Governor Jeb Bush’s support,” Cruz said in the same statement provided to CNN. “Governor Bush was an extraordinary governor of Florida, and his record of job creation and education innovation left a lasting legacy for millions of Floridians. His endorsement today is further evidence that Republicans are continuing to unite behind our campaign to nominate a proven conservative to defeat Hillary Clinton in November, take back the White House, and ensure a freer and more prosperous America for future generations.”

CNN’s Jamie Gangel contributed to this report.