Former Florida governor Jeb Bush returned briefly to the spotlight on Wednesday to endorse Ted Cruz following the Texas senator's sweeping win in the Utah caucuses overnight.
In a statement, Bush said his note of support was intended to buffet the "divisiveness and vulgarity" of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, who frequently taunted Bush on the trail and at debates, calling him a "loser," and "really weak."
"Ted is a consistent, principled conservative who has demonstrated the ability to appeal to voters and win primary contests," Bush said in the statement. "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 ended his presidential run in tears in February after months of lackluster polling and increasing pressure from the Republican establishment to quit and let protégé Marco Rubio — then in third place — shine. He had been laying low for about a month since dropping out after a fifth-place finish in the South Carolina primary.
But last week, the game shifted again when Rubio also concluded his bid for the presidency after losing his home state to Trump. Now Cruz, reviled by many of his Republican colleagues, has emerged as the party's primary hope to defeat Trump.
Bush's endorsement comes late — possibly too late — in the race, as Trump's campaign continues to dominate primary contests across the country. Other establishment Republicans have also been hesitant to back Cruz until recently, and some of their support appears to be more a reflection of their distaste for Trump than any real affinity with the Texas senator.
Former presidential candidate Lindsay Graham, who headlined a fundraiser for Cruz last week said that while the Texas senator was not his preferred candidate, he's "the best alternative to Donald Trump."
"He's certainly not my preference, but he's a reliable Republican, conservative, which I've had many differences with," Graham said in the glowing endorsement.
Graham had formerly endorsed Bush after suspending his own campaign in December.
Former Republican nominee Mitt Romney has also voiced his support for Cruz, but made it clear his vote for him in Utah would be strategic and that he preferred Ohio Governor John Kasich.
"The only path that remains to nominate a Republican rather than Mr. Trump is to have an open convention," Romney wrote in a Facebook statement. "At this stage, the only way we can reach an open convention is for Senator Cruz to be successful in as many of the remaining nominating elections as possible."
"I like Governor John Kasich. I have campaigned with him. He has a solid record as governor. I would have voted for him in Ohio. But a vote for Governor Kasich in future contests makes it extremely likely that Trumpism would prevail," the statement continued.
Cruz won the Utah primary on Tuesday night with more than 69 percent of the vote, taking all of the state's 40 delegates, while Trump received a victory in Arizona with 47 percent of the vote to win all of the 58 delegates up for grabs there.
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields