Last week I expressed my bemusement at the fact that none of the 2016 Republican presidential candidates had forcefully denounced billionaire racist and shriveled apricot Donald Trump for calling Mexican immigrants criminals, drug dealers, and “rapists.” For a party looking to boost its pathetically low share of the Latino vote in presidential years, it seemed like a layup – disagree with the frizz-topped bigot and demonstrate that, at a minimum, not all Republican presidential candidates view undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals.
A number of those candidates apparently came to the same conclusion, and over the last few days they’ve attacked Trump and gone to great pains to say that he doesn’t represent the mainstream of the party. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, and Mike Huckabee all hit back at The Donald’s grossly insulting remarks. Even George Pataki got in on the action.
There was one 2016 Republican contender, however, who pointedly refused to criticize Trump and even celebrated him for what he said – Ted Cruz. He appeared on “Meet the Press” this weekend and stood by Trump’s remarks, arguing that they’d had the beneficial effect of focusing people on immigration issues.
CRUZ: When it comes to Donald Trump, I like Donald Trump. He’s bold, he’s brash, and I get that it seems the favorite sport of the Washington media is to encourage some Republicans to attack other Republicans. I ain’t going to do it. I'm not interested in Republican on Republican violence.
CHUCK TODD: But rhetoric matters? Doesn't rhetoric matter?
CRUZ: I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration. 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 is wrong and I salute Donald Trump for focusing on it. He has a colorful way of speaking. It is not the way I speak. But I'm not going to engage in the media’s game of throwing rocks and attacking other Republicans. I'm just not going to do it.
Every syllable of every sentence of that response is hot, flaming garbage.
First of all, Cruz is joining in on what is apparently the new, fun game for prominent conservatives – credit Trump for saying things he didn’t actually say. Nothing about Trump’s comments bring any focus or clarity to the immigration debate. He called undocumented immigrants rapists. Trying to argue that he did anything else is making excuses for bigotry.
Secondly, for Ted Cruz to beg off criticizing Trump by saying that “he’s not interested in Republican on Republican violence” is laughable. Here’s Ted Cruz in May taking some unprovoked shots at “candidates running in the Republican field” who “were nowhere to be found” when Indiana’s controversial “religious liberty” law was under fire. Here’s Cruz’s campaign attacking Marco Rubio and Rand Paul on gun rights. Ted Cruz has made his reputation in Washington by attacking Republicans for being insufficiently conservative. But the second Chuck Todd asks him to respond to Trump, Cruz suddenly becomes a loyal party man?
But most significantly, Cruz himself clearly has no intention of capitalizing on the “focus” he credits Trump for bringing to the immigration issue. Immediately after refusing to attack Trump, Todd asked Cruz what he’d do about the undocumented immigrants already in the country – an issue you’d think he’d be concerned about, given that he endorsed Trump’s assumption that it’s a group comprised mainly of drug traffickers and sex criminals.
Cruz, however, refused to answer. “I don’t accept the premise that you have to solve every aspect of this problem all at once,” he said, not responding in any way to the question he’d been asked. Then he launched into a denunciation of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and took a swipe at “a lot of Republicans who are in the Washington cartel” for being pro-“amnesty.” (I guess he’d rethought his principled opposition to attacking his fellow party members.) The conclusion he landed on was “first we secure the borders and solve the problem of illegal immigration, and then I think we can have a conversation about what to do about the people who remain here.” So Cruz says Trump did a great thing in getting everyone to focus on immigration issues, but when you ask Ted Cruz to focus on immigration issues he rejects the premise of your question.
What explains all this nonsense? Cruz, like most everyone else, knows that the Trump 2016 candidacy is not an enduring enterprise and will, before long, crash and burn. When that happens, he wants to be in a position to pick up those voters who were drawn to Trump’s unguarded hostility towards immigrants. He’s pretending to stand on principle while making excuses for an inexcusable bigot so that he can benefit politically from Trump’s poisonous rhetoric.