The shift is notable for Cruz, who had previously said he believes that the race will come down to a contest between himself and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Cruz is attempting to consolidate the conservative and evangelical Christian wings of the party, and said he envisions a showdown with Rubio, who would represent so-called establishment Republicans. But now, as Cruz’s poll numbers rise nationally and position him behind Trump, he is floating a different scenario – one that Trump initially raised last week. The Texas Republican has said he does not believe the real estate magnate will be the party's nominee.
Polls in Iowa have showed them running neck-and-neck for the past few weeks, and national polls have Cruz pulling within striking distance of Trump; a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday shows Cruz within four percentage points of Trump.
Trump has said he thinks the race could come down to the two men.
Cruz and Trump have spent the entirety of the presidential race enmeshed in an odd political bromance, playing nice with one another as the other Republican candidates spat with one another. It showed signs of fraying after Cruz questioned Trump’s judgment for the presidency during a closed-door fundraiser in New York and Trump fired back, But the relationship came off the shoals at the last Republican debate.
The Texas Republican’s comments about the judgment needed to inhabit the Oval Office are nothing new – he would typically talk about the concept more broadly. His comments at the fundraiser, an audio copy of his remarks obtained by The New York Times, were the first time he said them in the context of Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Cruz said here the process of running for president is akin to a job interview where you make your case to be commander-in-chief to 330 million interviewers.
“Who is best prepared to defeat our enemies? Who is best prepared to keep this nation safe? And who’s best prepared to defend our constitutional freedom? That’s the case I’m trying to make every day. Every other candidate is trying to do the same thing,” he said.
Cruz argued that his plan to consolidate grassroots support, particularly in the early voting states and places like Tennessee that vote March 1, is coming together.
“We are seeing more and more what Donald suggested, this becoming a two-man race. And if conservatives unite, the race is over,” he said.
Cruz declined to comment on Trump’s statement that Hillary Clinton got “schlonged” by President Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary.
“I’m going to let Donald Trump speak for himself,” Cruz said. The Texas Republican said that the world doesn’t need another political pundit, comparing those who pontificate on political affairs to the Muppet characters Statler and Waldorf, who comment on and pick apart events on the show.