Last week, there wasn’t a whole lot of oxygen in the room full of Republican presidential candidates if your name didn’t happen to by Donald J. Trump. Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and other top-tier contenders will get their time in the spotlight in the end, but Trump’s vanity candidacy will likely have the most powerful impact on other candidates who have tailored their message to the angriest elements of the GOP. Candidates like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Cruz, more than most GOP contenders, would appear to be among those with the most to lose if a Trump candidacy takes off. The Texan has made himself a national figure largely by being a bomb-thrower – someone willing to shut down the government because he dislikes the Affordable Care Act, or to warn Americans that ISIS fighters might be crossing the U.S. Southern border.
Trump, who said immigrants crossing the Southern border are largely made up of rapists and criminals, is making a bid to usurp Cruz’s position of provocateur-in-chief and that can’t be very good for a Ted Cruz presidential run.
However, to his credit, Cruz resisted a golden opportunity to go after a Trump candidacy in a very public forum on Sunday. In an interview with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, Cruz refused to rise to the bait and attack his rival.
“Now, when it comes to Donald Trump, I like Donald Trump,” said Cruz. “He's bold, he's brash. And I get that -- that it seems the favorite sport of the Washington media is to encourage some Republicans to attack other Republicans. I ain't gonna do it. I'm not interested in Republican on Republican violence.”
Todd tried again, pressing Cruz – himself the son of an immigrant – to take a position on whether Trump’s angry rhetoric, at least was bad for the political debate.
“I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration,” Cruz said. “The Washington cartel doesn't want to address that. The Washington cartel doesn't believe we need to secure the borders. The Washington cartel supports amnesty and I think amnesty's wrong.
“And I salute Donald Trump for focusing on it. He has a colorful way of speaking. It's not the way I speak. But I'm not gonna engage in the media's game of throwing rocks and attacking other Republicans. I'm just not gonna do it.”
While Cruz took a strong stance on Trump, he was somewhat less definitive when it came to actually stating a position on how to deal with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S.
Asked by Todd how he would deal with them, Cruz refused to answer, claiming that simply by asking him that question, Todd was taking a partisan Democratic position.
Todd continued to look for a specific answer.
“What do you do with the 11 million people though? Do you have to send 'em back, or do you give them a way to get legal?”
“Chuck, I don't accept the premise that you have to solve every aspect of this problem all at once,” Cruz said. “President Obama and the Democrats focus on that issue because the question you're asking is the most divisive partisan question in this entire debate. And I don't believe President Obama wants to solve this.”
Todd tried a few more times, and Cruz continued to refuse to answer directly, citing instead the failure of past immigration reform bills to fully secure the border, and blaming the problem partly on Republican-allied interests in Washington.
“And here's the sad truth,” he said. “A lot of Republicans in the Washington cartel, they're all for amnesty too because from the perspective of the Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street, it's cheap labor.”
Todd eventually gave up and moved on. But while his viewers may not have learned much about Ted Cruz’s position on immigration reform, they learned a lot about lines the Texas firebrand is unwilling to cross -- for now at least.
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