This past summer, Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted that he would “never hesitate to defend religious liberty — both at home and abroad.”
On Tuesday, Cruz declined to condemn Donald Trump’s latest plan to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Instead, he said, Trump should be commended for bringing the issue to the general public.
“I do not believe the world needs my voice added to that chorus of critics,” Cruz said at a Tuesday press conference, referencing the large group of Republican and Democratic presidential candidates who have criticized the plan.
“And listen,” Cruz added, “I commend Donald Trump for standing up and focusing America’s attention on the need to secure our borders.”
I will never, ever, ever shy from standing up and defending the religious liberty of every American: https://t.co/11gP8zokv2
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) June 19, 2015
To recap, Trump on Tuesday proposed a ban on Muslim immigration that would apply to tourists, refugees, immigrants, and even Muslim-American citizens living abroad (though Trump seems to have walked back on that last point). His plan has earned harsh rebukes from legal experts who say it’s unconstitutional, and politicians on both sides of the aisle. His Republican opponent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot” who “doesn’t represent my party.” Across the political spectrum, Trump’s drawn comparisons to Adolf Hitler, who facilitated the murder of approximately six million Jews. The business mogul said he was not bothered by those comparisons.
But Cruz, currently rising in the polls, would not explicitly criticize the plan on Tuesday. He added that he does disagree with Trump’s proposal — “I do not think it is the right solution,” he said — but added that he would support Trump if he became the Republican presidential nominee.
In the past, Cruz has aggressively defended the principles of religious liberty — the First Amendment’s guarantee that American government can’t interfere with the free exercise of religion. Salon political reporter Simon Maloy noticed as much on Tuesday, retweeting a series of Cruz statements where he pledged to “never shy away from defending the religious liberty of every American.”
It may be confusing, then, that Cruz refuses to condemn a plan that explicitly discriminates against one religion. But when it comes to Muslims, Cruz’s conception of religious liberty has often been limited. Back in November, he advocated for a “religious test” for Syrian refugees, saying persecuted Christians should be prioritized over Muslims. Cruz has also extensively complimented Frank Gaffney, an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist who was one of the first to question whether president Barack Obama was a Muslim.
Cruz also seems deeply committed to avoiding disputes with Trump — not a poor strategy, considering the Republican candidates who have targeted Trump have consistently seen their poll numbers drop. To date, however, Cruz is one of the only remaining presidential candidates — if not the only one — who has never strongly criticized Trump.
Instead, Cruz’s strategy so far has been to compliment the billionaire. They’ve held events together, and Trump has even said he’d hire Cruz to help build a wall on the Mexican border. But Trump has also warned Cruz that if he jumps on the criticism bandwagon, he’ll suffer a fate similar to his opponents. “Once he hits me, I promise you …” Trump told a crowd of supporters at a rally on Monday night.
So far, Cruz isn’t hitting. After Trump’s plan was released on Tuesday, Cruz announced that he’d like to hire Trump as his trade negotiator if elected president.
“I continue to like and respect Donald Trump,” Cruz said in an interview with Breitbart published Tuesday. “While other candidates in this race have gone out of their way to throw rocks at him, to insult him, I have consistently declined to do so and I have no intention of changing that now.”