WASHINGTON – Asked Thursday about a report that he questioned the foreign policy judgment of GOP presidential rivals Donald Trump and Ben Carson, Ted Cruz declined to address the contenders specifically. But as he laid out his own foreign policy vision, the senator from Texas said that voters will have to weigh which candidate’s judgment they trust the most.
“I’m not going to comment on what I may or may not have said at a private fundraiser," Cruz replied to a reporter’s question about a recently published New York Times story. "But I will say is this: Over the course of the presidential election, the voters are going to make a decision about every candidate, and ultimately the decision is who has the right judgment — experience and judgment — to serve as commander in chief."
"Every one of us running is being assessed by that metric, and that is exactly why we have a democratic election to make that determination," added Cruz, who spoke to reporters after talking at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank near the U.S. Capitol.
The Times report said that Cruz raised questions about Carson and Trump on Wednesday at a private New York City fundraiser.
“You look at Paris, you look at San Bernardino, it’s given a seriousness to this race, that people are looking for: Who is prepared to be a commander in chief? Who understands the threats we face?” he said, according to the Times.
The article said that he further questioned whether either Carson or Trump could be trusted with nuclear weapons: “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.”
After the speech, the Cruz camp put out a news release calling the report "misleading" but included a statement that otherwise mirrored his morning comments.
But on Thursday, Cruz focused on discussing how he would handle foreign policy in today’s climate.
He further criticized the president for the expansion of ISIS. Frequently quoting Reagan-era U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Cruz argued that at times, the U.S. must accept unsavory strongmen as allies rather than the unintended fallout of toppling a dictator.
He blamed Obama for doing just that in the failed states of Libya and Egypt.
“We will not win by replacing dictators, as unpleasant as they may be, with terrorists who want to kill us and destroy America," he said.
The Texas senator tracked most challenges in foreign policy to the administrations of President Obama and former President Jimmy Carter, both Democrats.
Cruz blamed Carter for the fall of the shah in Iran; and Obama for, in his view, mishandling the early administration upheavals in Iran, Egypt, Libya and Syria.
Unmentioned in the remarks: the 2003 Iraq invasion or his former boss, President George W. Bush. Cruz did indicate that he would not engage in the pre-emptive use of American ground forces that marked some of the second Bush administration’s policy decisions.
“Some in the course of a political campaign have focused on the question of boots on the ground, American boots on the ground, as a talismanic demonstration of strength,” he said. "That is getting the deployment of military force precisely backwards. This is not a game of Risk, where politicians move armies around to demonstrate their machismo."
"Instead, you need a commander in chief who sets the objective of destroying ISIS, and then we need to rely on the expert military judgment as to the tools necessary to carry out that objective, including overwhelming military power, including arming the Kurds, and including using whatever ground troops are necessary to kill the terrorists and then come home.”
He also touched on the country's recent history with controversial surveillance and data collection at the National Security Agency. Cruz placed himself between Republican rivals like the hawkish U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is more libertarian in his national security views.
"The Bill of Rights is altogether compatible with protecting the safety and security of American citizens," Cruz said. "On the right, there are some who have called for resurrecting the government’s bulk data collection that existed under the Patriot Act."
"More data from millions of law abiding Americans is not always better data," he said.
"When the focus of law enforcement and national security is on law-abiding citizens, rather than targeting the bad guys, we miss the bad guys while violating the constitutional rights of American citizens," he added.