Fox News anchor Bret Baier confronted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Wednesday over his questioning of presidential rival Donald Trump’s “judgment.”
Cruz frequently maintains that he will not throw mud at his rivals, but he has been locked in a pitched battle with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida).
“You have not had a problem attacking Marco Rubio and going back and forth with him,” Baier told Cruz during an interview. “But it seems you have had a problem attacking Donald Trump.”
Baier quoted Cruz, in audio leaked to The New York Times, saying that the question of national-security “judgment” would ultimately be “challenging” for Trump.
“Why couldn’t you say that on the stage last night? Baier asked, referencing the Tuesday CNN debate in which Cruz refused to repeat that argument against Trump.
As he did during the debate, however, Cruz ducked the main thrust of the question in order to speak broadly about voters judging all of the candidates.
“When it comes to Sen. Rubio, what I have been happy to do is lay out our clear policy differences, because we have differed on some very important policies,” Cruz said. “When it comes to Donald Trump, the Washington establishment desperately wants Donald and me to engage in a cage match. And I don’t think that’s beneficial to the country.”
But Cruz and Rubio have been very willing to engage in a cage match with each other.
On Wednesday night, for example, the Cruz campaign fired off a press release titled, “Marco Rubio’s Trouble With The Truth: Rubio’s Rhetoric Smacked Down By Reality.” And during his Fox interview, Cruz repeatedly said Rubio had sided with Democrats to back “amnesty” for people living in the US illegally.
Meanwhile, in his own Fox News interview Wednesday, Rubio accused Cruz of trying to “obscure” his own record on illegal immigration.
“He clearly was a support of legalization,” Rubio told Fox host Megyn Kelly. “He doesn’t mention that [now] in the speeches in Iowa. He obviously mentioned that at the time because that’s what he wanted. And now of course in this campaign he’s looking for a political advantage.”
Rubio was citing a Cruz argument in 2013 that his amendment to an immigration-reform bill would make the overall package easier to pass. Cruz’s campaign recently claimed the amendment was actually a “poison pill” to make the larger bill politically toxic.
Cruz and Rubio have also been duking it out over the USA Freedom Act, which curtailed the US’ gathering of phone metadata. In recent days, Rubio has constantly highlighted Cruz’s support for the bill, which Rubio claims undercut US national security.
“We are now at a time when we need more tools, not less tools, and that tool we lost — the metadata program — was a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal,” Rubio said Tuesday at the CNN debate.
Cruz countered by saying that Rubio was spreading “knowingly false” information about his record.
“Marco knows what he is saying isn’t true,” Cruz said. “What he knows is that the old program covered 20% to 30% of phone numbers to search for terrorists. The new program covers nearly 100%. That gives us greater ability to stop acts of terrorism and he knows that’s the case.”
The leaked audio of Cruz questioning Trump’s “judgment” perhaps offers an explanation for why Cruz has been treating the front-runner with kid gloves while attacking Rubio.
Cruz told his supporters privately that his strategy has been to smother Trump and another candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, with “love” in order to scoop up their supporters when they eventually fade in the race.
“My approach — much to the frustration of the media — has been to bear-hug both of them and smother them with love,” Cruz said of Trump and Carson. “Look, people run as who they are. I believe that gravity will bring both of those campaigns down. And I think the lion’s share of their supporters come to us.”
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