Republican Presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at his Pennsylvania kick off event at the National Constitution Center on April 19, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Jessica Kourkounis—Getty Images
By Zeke J Miller / Hollywood, Florida
Updated: April 20, 2016 4:35 PM ET

Ted Cruz has made few friends among Republicans in Washington during his nearly four years in the Senate, but his message to GOP elite as he looks to build support to the party’s presidential nominee is that he would bring more Republicans along with him.

In a private meeting with members of the Republican National Committee, the Cruz campaign’s high command, including campaign manager Jeff Roe, strategist David Polyansky, and delegate-hunters Ken Cuccinelli and Saul Anuzis, made the case for Cruz as the party’s stronger choice for the general election and argued he’d help down-ballot GOP races. Mathematically eliminated from winning the GOP nomination on the first ballot, Cruz is betting on Donald Trump failing to reach the 1,237 delegates required to win the nomination on the first ballot, and plotting to secure as many of the then-unbound votes as possible.

According to multiple people in the room, Roe pitched the members on Cruz’s commitment to grassroots organizing and cited poll numbers showing Cruz as a better candidate than Trump in the general election. Yet Cruz’s own numbers are less than spectacular, trailing Hillary Clinton in nearly every poll, and often by substantial margins.

Cruz made a late addition to his schedule Wednesday to attend the spring meeting of the RNC at a beachside resort in Hollywood, Fla., where his campaign has arranged an afternoon of small-group meetings with RNC members. The Florida meeting represents the largest gathering of known delegates to the convention, and the second largest to the as-yet-elected California delegation’s organizing meeting. Speaking to the heart of the GOP establishment, Cruz rejected the notion that he was trying to appeal to the very “Washington cartel” he has railed against for years.

“The people who are here are elected grassroots activists from the states,” Cruz said of the 168 members of the Republican National Committee in a press conference.

Speaking to reporters after the morning briefing, Roe reinforced the message he delivered privately, saying he believes RNC members are focused on ensuring the continued viability of their state parties, saying if Trump wins the nomination, “it’ll be a whitewash. It’ll be a situation where we’d have to rename our party.”

“I think one of the critical components if you’re an RNC member that has worked your life to get Republicans elected in your state is how do you get them re-elected,” Roe told reporters, saying Cruz is pledging to run a national campaign in the general election. “And the Republican nominee — what is the nominee of your party going to do for you as a state party. And that’s where we all came from, to a person on our team we came from the grassroots running a campaign in difficult environments or easy environments, state reps, state senate, congressional, statewide. And so the interaction between a presidential campaign and a local party is critical, it’s crucial, and we don’t believe it’s just a 51-county national race anymore that happens in five states. We just don’t believe that. We believe that this is a national campaign.”

Roe’s argument drew quick snark from GOP rivals and raised eyebrows from operatives, who noted Cruz has endorsed primary challengers to sitting Republican lawmakers, called Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell a “liar” and faces challenges reaching out to general-election moderates, women and minorities.

Roe added that he doesn’t think Trump can win, and that Cruz “will build an infrastructure that supports the local elected officials running for re-election.”

“I mean, with a Cruz at the top of the ballot, you will see records of conservatives coming out to vote, and we are building an infrastructure to compete where others haven’t competed: for Hispanics, younger voters, we had a life story that’s compelling to women, that’s compelling to minorities, it’s compelling to younger voters,” he added. “Our opponent in this primary doesn’t have that.”

Speaking to reporters, Cruz argued that despite Trump’s New York victory, the GOP race is set for a contested convention. “I am not going to reach 1,237, and Donald is not going to reach 1,237,” Cruz maintained. He added that he is in the race until the convention. “The only condition under which I’d leave the race were if it was clear there was no path to victory,” Cruz said.

He also refreshed his call for Trump to face him in a head-to-head debate, noting the last such gathering was 41 days ago. “I think there ought to be a debate before the vote next Tuesday,” Cruz said.

Ohio Governor John Kasich and representatives of Trump’s campaign will also be in Cleveland this week to make their pitch to RNC members.

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