Ted Cruz sounded despondent at the possibility that same-sex marriage could become legal when he called into the radio show of Tony Perkins, a vehement opponent of gay rights, in February 2014. “Our heart weeps for the damage to traditional marriage that has been done,” Mr. Cruz said, urging conservatives to pray but also to fight back. “Be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves,” he said, quoting Scripture.
But seven months later, when Mr. Cruz visited the Midtown Manhattan office of a major Republican supporter of same-sex marriage, he sounded almost indifferent: If New York politicians wanted to legalize it, that was their business, he told Paul Singer, the billionaire investor who had bankrolled efforts to strike down laws forbidding same-sex marriage across the country. There was no reason the issue had to drive a wedge between the two men, the Texas senator said, according to a person briefed on the meeting who supports one of Mr. Cruz’s opponents. (Mr. Singer went on to endorse Senator Marco Rubio of Florida a year later.)
Mr. Cruz would hardly be the only person to modulate his most provocative language when speaking to people whose support he is courting. But Mr. Cruz, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, has worked harder than any Republican running for president to portray himself as the true and pure conservative and to impugn his rivals as not faithful enough in their conservatism.
Now, as he finds himself locked in an intense struggle for the support of the party’s top donors, instances in which he curried favor, or merely associated, with people who do not share his views on some contentious issues are being dredged up and shared by people who believe that Mr. Cruz has been disingenuous, especially in his solicitation of money from people he has coolly dismissed as having “New York values.”
In interviews, donors and activists do not suggest that Mr. Cruz has contradicted himself. But they say that, in contrast to his aggressive public persona, he places a distinctly softer emphasis on some of his most stridently conservative views when privately addressing people who might find them offensive.
On immigration, for example, Mr. Cruz has come under fire for reversing himself on expanding the H1B visa pool for highly skilled workers, a program viewed skeptically by conservatives. He now opposes it, citing abuses of the program. But in advocating for the program in 2013, he sought support not just from policy experts but from donors with an interest in the subject.
That June, Mr. Cruz’s spokesman, Sean Rushton, wrote to an aide to Joe Lonsdale, a venture investor, attaching a draft op-ed by Mr. Cruz explaining his support for an increase in the visas, which was favored by many in the tech industry, including Mr. Lonsdale. The email invited Mr. Lonsdale to propose edits to the article if he saw fit. (The op-ed does not appear to have run.)
Mr. Cruz’s spokesman, Rick Tyler, said his positions were consistent, adding, “We give donors an opportunity to sign on with Cruz, not the other way around.”
In interviews, people who have seen Mr. Cruz speak privately said he was able to switch back and forth with ease between his crusading public persona and a softer and less confrontational tone.
Mr. Perkins, the evangelical leader, who endorsed Mr. Cruz this week, said that there was nothing unusual about this. “You find a point of commonality,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you’re not for the other issues.” Mr. Cruz, he added, was sincere in his beliefs. “I’ve never seen him speak out of both sides of his mouth.”
Robert O’Brien, a Los Angeles lawyer who supported Mitt Romney in 2012 and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin before he dropped out, gathered more than a dozen former Romney supporters to meet Mr. Cruz in December 2014. “I found his positions to be solid conservative Ronald Reagan-type positions,” said Mr. O’Brien, saying Mr. Cruz, whom he found charming, focused primarily on national security. “I didn’t find them to be kind of the caricature that came out of him in the Senate,” he said. But he said he did not hear any contradictions with Mr. Cruz’s public pronouncements.
Despite his public denunciations of political opponents and firebrand views on social issues, Mr. Cruz has a long history with some of the party’s prominent donors who hold more liberal views on social issues.
In his 30s, when he was a lawyer mulling his next move, Mr. Cruz sought out wealthy financiers who were major benefactors to gay-rights causes. His campaign for Texas attorney general in 2009 was aided with $250,000 from Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, and he persuaded Mr. Singer to donate $25,000. (Mr. Cruz withdrew when his boss at the time, Attorney General Greg Abbott, sought re-election.)
Mr. Cruz continues to rely on Mr. Thiel’s generosity and describes the venture capitalist, who is gay, as a close friend. He has been a guest at two lavish conferences Mr. Thiel hosts for up-and-coming conservative leaders, one in Miami Beach at the Setai, where rooms top $1,000 per night, in 2008, and another at the Reynolds Plantation in Georgia in 2009.
A person who attended the Miami Beach gathering described the retreats as brainstorming sessions on the future of the American right involving people who were more centrist-minded than fire-breathing conservatives.
Attendees included young Republicans who were considered rising stars at the time, including Eric Cantor, who would become House majority leader, and Aaron Schock, the former Illinois congressman who would later resign amid revelations of campaign finance impropriety.
Mr. Thiel was also a major supporter of Mr. Cruz’s 2012 Senate campaign, giving $2 million to the Club for Growth, which in turn spent heavily on Mr. Cruz’s behalf. And Mr. Cruz invoked their friendship at a fund-raiser last April at the home of two hoteliers whose properties cater to a gay clientele.
Mr. Thiel and Mr. Singer have both supported efforts to legalize same-sex marriage for the better part of the last decade.
Mr. Cruz first wooed Mr. Singer in March 2009, according to a person who reviewed Mr. Singer’s calendar but insisted on anonymity to disclose details from it. Over the next five years, Mr. Cruz requested at least eight more meetings with Mr. Singer in his Manhattan office, and got four.
In 2012, Mr. Singer donated $100,000 to a group that helped elect Mr. Cruz to the Senate. But he was turned off by what he thought was Mr. Cruz’s futile and harmful efforts that shut down the government in 2013 in protest of the Affordable Care Act.
They differed most noticeably, however, on gay rights. Mr. Singer has often urged Republicans to adopt a more inclusive tone. But shortly after the Supreme Court ruling last summer that legalized same-sex marriage, Mr. Cruz told an audience of conservatives the decision was “one of the greatest threats to our democracy we have seen in modern times.”