WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz's growing success with voters isn't rubbing off on his fellow GOP senators, who remain decidedly cool to his presidential candidacy.
The Texas Republican is notorious for alienating his colleagues with tactics that have included pushing a fruitless government shutdown in 2013 and accusing the Senate majority leader of lying.
Lawmakers are now paying it back by refusing to get on board with Cruz's White House campaign even as he emerges as the likeliest alternative to businessman Donald Trump following a commanding victory Tuesday in Wisconsin.
"I just haven't heard any talk about it," responded Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, when asked whether Republican colleagues would be gravitating toward Cruz.
"I will tell you that wasn't the chatter," said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., after emerging from a private GOP lunch.
"I don't see any rush to judgment," added Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, a four-term lawmaker.
Of Cruz's frosty relations with his colleagues, Roberts said: "I think that's obvious. That's just the way it is. But in the end result I think all of us would like to support the nominee and do the best we can."
Cruz's campaign has asked former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm to make the case for Cruz on Capitol Hill, even though Gramm himself initially endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio before Rubio dropped out.
In a phone interview, Gramm said he wasn't seeking endorsements from senators but rather trying to "establish a working relationship for the future" between Cruz and Senate leaders like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Cruz has dismissed McConnell as a member of the "Washington cartel" who's little better than a Democrat, but Gramm insisted that a constructive relationship will be possible.
"The most fundamental factor in putting together a working alliance with Congress for Ted Cruz is he shares their views as to what should be done," Gramm said. "Whether his approach was right and theirs was wrong, or theirs was right and his was wrong in the past, is not a terribly relevant factor here."
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has made a half-hearted endorsement of Cruz, predicted that more establishment support would swing behind Cruz. Graham, a short-lived presidential candidate himself, tried to make the case that while the erratic Trump would destroy the GOP for generations to come by turning off women and minorities, Cruz is at least a reliable Republican with a steady foreign policy outlook who shares his colleagues' views on most issues.
"I think some of Ted's tactics have hurt the party but the overall vision is far more common," Graham said.
Although Graham also contends Cruz could be electable, his argument for backing Cruz is being called by some pundits the "Lose With Cruz" movement.
And it's falling on deaf ears with some colleagues.
"Not yet," said GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, when asked if he would be backing Cruz. "I'm no fan of Donald Trump, I think I've said that before," Flake added. "But this isn't over. (Ohio Gov.) John Kasich is still in the race, no candidate is likely to have the necessary votes and so I wouldn't discount Kasich or something else happening."
Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, one of the more vulnerable incumbents in November, said of Cruz's chances of wooing fellow Republican senators: "I would say a slow process with a lot of romance and a lot of discussion would be necessary." Kirk then demurred on whether he himself would get there.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who has tangled with Cruz over his failed efforts to withhold federal dollars from the president's health care law and Planned Parenthood, sidestepped when asked if she's coming around to the idea that Cruz will be the nominee.
"I'm coming around to more like, 'It looks like it will be a very interesting convention,' " said Ayotte, who's facing a tough re-election fight.
Campaigning in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire Cruz would regularly declare: "If you see a candidate Washington embraces, run and hide."
But lately that line has disappeared. And in New York City on Wednesday, Cruz claimed that his Wisconsin victory would be a "turning point" that showed Republicans were coming together to stand united. The election, he said, "is about unity."
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, and Michael Balsamo in New York contributed to this report.