Most of Donald Trump’s top Republican rivals wasted little time in repudiating his disgusting and likely unconstitutional plan to indefinitely ban Muslims from entering the United States. Establishment-types like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich have been the most forceful in their denunciations of it, but Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have also gotten in on the action. (Fittingly, Marco Rubio came down somewhere in between the establishment and anti-establishment crowds.)
Asked about Trump’s plan during a campaign stop in South Carolina on Monday evening, the Texas firebrand was noticeably careful with his response. “Well, that, that is not my policy,” Cruz said, before touting his own proposal for a moratorium on resettling refugees from countries where ISIS or al-Qaida control significant territory. On Tuesday—after Dick Cheney, Paul Ryan, and several state party leaders rebuked Trump—Cruz got a second chance to offer a more forceful answer, but again passed. "I disagree with that proposal," Cruz told reporters at a Capitol Hill press conference. "I like Donald Trump."
"In the media, there has been no shortage of criticism for Donald Trump, and I do not believe the world needs my voice added to that chorus of critics," continued Cruz, a man who wants to be the president of the United States of America, a job one would imagine would require taking a position on a high-profile proposal to bar roughly a quarter of the world’s population from stepping foot on U.S. soil. "And listen, I commend Donald Trump for standing up and focusing America's attention on the need to secure our borders."
The lackluster response shouldn’t come as a surprise. While Cruz isn’t backing Trump’s no-Muslims-allowed policy, he’s proposed a similar religious test for Syrian refugees hoping to resettle in the United States. He’s also recently taken a page out of Trump’s “bomb the shit out ‘em” playbook when talking about his plans to defeat ISIS. "We will carpet bomb them into oblivion,” he said in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, over the weekend. “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out." Tough guy.
Cruz has been playing the long game with Trump to perfection since the real estate tycoon jumped into the race this summer, traveling to Trump Tower to pay his respects in July, inviting the Donald to his anti-Iran deal rally in September, and recently suggesting he’d want Trump working in his administration. Through it all, Cruz has kept one eye on the GOP front-runner’s legion of angry fans, positioning himself as one half step closer to sanity than the blustery billionaire. Cruz’s hope is that when Trump fades, he’ll be the most obvious fallback plan for Donald’s supporters—while looking ever-so-slightly more electable to a GOP establishment that will be relieved to have woken up from its Trump-sized nightmare. (Cruz appears to have found success using a similar strategy with Carson and his evangelical supporters.)
Some political observers have speculated that Trump released his anti-Muslim plan when he did, at least in part, to recapture the political spotlight from Cruz and his recent rise in the polls. Regardless of whether that’s true, Trump’s headline-generating proposal did just that. Cruz, though, seems more than happy to keep trailing behind the GOP front-runner’s bluster for now as the rest of the field runs headfirst into it.
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