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Wagner is declining to endorse Trump, as Missouri Cruz backers shift focus

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump points to protesters that he tells to "get out," during his speech at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis on March 11, 2016.
File photo, Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Just days after Ted Cruz’s Missouri backers scored local victories over Donald Trump, the Cruz camp is mulling its next move now that Cruz has dropped out as a presidential candidate.

But Missouri congresswoman Ann Wagner, a Republican from Ballwin who had backed Cruz, is mincing no words about Trump – who she is not ready to endorse.

“I have no intention of supporting Hillary Clinton, now or ever,” Wagner said in an exclusive interview. “However, I’m like any other voter. A candidate has to earn my vote. And thus far, Donald Trump has not.”

Trump is the likely Republican nominee for president, after trouncing Cruz Tuesday in Indiana's primary.

Wagner has been critical of various comments made by Trump in recent months, especially his remarks criticizing Senator John McCain for being a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict. In response, she had donated $1,000 that she earlier had received from Trump to the Ballwin VFW chapter.

Wagner is a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee, and former chair of the Missouri Republican Party. Her public refusal to get behind Trump, for now, signals that it may be tough for national Republicans to achieve unity.

Even if Cruz isn't campaigning, his Missouri allies aren't ready to jump ship. “The fight for liberty is still alive,’’ said Carl Bearden, co-chair of Cruz’s Missouri operation.

Missouri Republican Party chairman John Hancock has a different task – cooling any tensions between the Trump and Cruz activists before the presidential convention in Cleveland. “What we know about wounds and Republicans is that sometimes they heal, and sometimes they don’t,’’ Hancock said.

Besides Wagner, Cruz's major Missouri supporters include state Sen. Bob Onder, R- Lake St. Louis. Trump had few prominent backers in the state, even though he won Missouri’s March 15 presidential primary.

Last Saturday, some tempers flared when the Cruz activists succeeded at the congressional-district conventions in getting their supporters elected as Trump delegates. That move angered Trump allies who had counted on their own people filling the slots.

Cruz's Missouri camp is still hoping to install more of its supporters as delegates when the remaining 25 slots are filled May 21 at the state GOP convention in Branson. Hancock is trying to assemble a "unity slate'' that can appease the Trump and Cruz forces.

The pro-Cruz delegates committed to Trump will be required to vote for Trump on the first ballot. With no other official GOP opponents, Trump is expected to capture the nomination on that first ballot.

Still, Bearden emphasized that Cruz’s 565 committed delegates, including 17 in Missouri, will remain committed to Cruz, despite his decision to bow out.

Cruz told the crowd he thought the election would come down to issues of jobs, freedom, and security
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Ted Cruz during Missouri stop right before the state's primary.

That’s true of many of the other former GOP contenders, who officially “suspended’’ their campaigns, rather than outright quitting, to maintain control of their delegates.

Bearden observed, “A lot of us here were surprised” by Cruz’s decision Tuesday night, after losing to Trump in Indiana’s Republican primary.

But the aim of Cruz allies now, said Bearden, will be on “affecting and impacting’’ the platforms approved at the state and national conventions.

Party platforms are primarily a series of stances that the party activists embrace and that its candidates are encouraged to adhere to.

The Missouri GOP’s 15-page recommended platform, for example, calls for “reducing government regulations,’’ the approval of a balanced budget amendment to the national Constitution, eliminating Obamacare, and overturning the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing most abortions.

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