Cruz on Trump: Others "Smack" Him; I Back Him
BROOKLYN, Iowa — As many Republican presidential candidates are dodging the political specter of Donald Trump or attacking him, Ted Cruz has incorporated praise for Trump into his campaign stump speech.
At a small town hall event here on Friday, Cruz reminded his supporters that he has been the sole Republican to back Trump in light of his myriad controversial remarks, particularly about immigration.
“Donald spoke out, and then this parade of Republicans ran out to smack him with a stick, one after the other after the other. The only one that didn’t was me,” Cruz said, to enthusiastic applause and cheers.
“He’s standing up for the truth, no BS,” a woman in the crowd said to Cruz.
“Absolutely,” Cruz responded. “He speaks in a colorful manner, no doubt. But he’s shining a light on the problem of illegal immigration, and sanctuary cities, and the crime and national security problems that are coming from this government not enforcing laws.”
“Part of the reason you see so many Republicans smacking him is, they don’t want to talk about it,” Cruz went on. “Because the sad reality is, most of the major candidates in this 2016 field have previously publicly, emphatically embraced amnesty.”
Cruz’s steadfast support for Trump, and the plaudits it is winning Cruz from some supporters, illustrates the puzzle Trump’s candidacy presents for Republican contenders for the presidency. On the one hand, Trump is the political equivalent of a live grenade. But he has clearly struck a chord, and ignoring his popular surge could mean leaving supporters on the table.
As Cruz pointed out Friday, most Republican presidential candidates have opted to criticize Trump. Lindsey Graham has called Trump a “wrecking ball.” Rick Perry said his rhetoric is “a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense.”
Meanwhile, Cruz has taken the opposite approach: praising Trump in hopes of steering his fans toward Cruz’s own campaign, emerging as the most prominent defender of Trump.
"I like Donald Trump,” Cruz said on Fox News last month. “I think he's terrific, I think he's brash, I think he speaks the truth.”
The tack is not without strategic merit. In a slew of recent national polls, including one released this week by USA Today, Trump leads the Republican presidential primary field. In the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Trump is neck and neck with Jeb Bush, and in New Hampshire he ranks second.
Cruz, however, remains stuck in the middle of the pack, and he is targeting many of the same conservative voters who might be drawn to Trump’s no-holds-barred rhetoric.
Still, the opportunity to snatch Trump’s supporters isn’t yet tempting all Republican candidates in the conservative vein. Halfway across the Hawkeye State from Cruz on Friday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker held his first campaign event in Iowa as a presidential candidate.
He steered clear of Trump, even as some supporters as his event buzzed with praise for Trump, and even when reporters asked Walker directly about him.
“Why don’t you comment on what he’s saying?” one reporter asked.
“What I’ve said is, Donald Trump can speak for himself,” Walker dodged. “I’m going to answer questions about my positions, not about Donald Trump’s, or Jeb Bush’s, or anybody else out there.”
When it sounded as if another reporter would follow up on the question, Walker stopped him.
“You ask me again? I’ll give you the same answer again 50 more times,” Walker said. “If you want to waste your time on that question, go ahead."