This post has been updated to include the audio of Cruz’s remarks.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) so far has refrained from publicly criticizing his presidential rival Donald Trump, but he did question whether the GOP frontrunner had the “judgment” to be President while speaking to donors behind closed doors Wednesday, according to The New York Times.
Two anonymous attendees at the private Manhattan fundraiser where Cruz spoke told the Times that Cruz referred to both Trump and Dr. Ben Carson’s fitness to be commander-in-chief, telling donors: “Who am I comfortable having their finger on the button? Now that’s a question of strength, but it’s also a question of judgment. And I think that is a question that is a challenging question for both of them.”
The Texas Republican has taken pains to avoid critiquing Trump, even as others in the GOP field have strongly condemned his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., in addition to his debunked stories about Muslim-Americans celebrating the 9/11 terror attacks.
Instead, Cruz has praised Trump for pivoting the national conversation towards the threat of terrorism and what he sees as the risk of immigration from majority-Muslim countries. This strategy allows him to both appeal to Trump’s wide base of supporters and to deflect the withering takedowns Trump is known to direct towards his critics.
At the Manhattan event, Cruz took a page out of Trump’s book by couching his criticism in the veil of praise.
“Both of them I like and respect,” Cruz said in reference to Trump and Carson, as quoted by the Times. “I don’t believe either one of them is going to be our president.”
Though Cruz has risen in recent polls thanks to a surge of evangelical support in early primary states like Iowa, Trump remains far ahead of the rest of the Republican field.
On Thursday, Cruz characterized the Times’ report as “misleading,” saying any “judgment” of candidates would ultimately be left up to the voters. He neglected to mention what details of the story were misleading.
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) December 10, 2015
The New York Times later obtained audio of Cruz’s comments. You can listen here.