Ted Cruz: Trump Had the Upper Hand in Last Night's Debate

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said Tuesday that Donald Trump had the upper hand over Hillary Clinton in last night's debate and that it was his strongest debate performance so far. He also said the media's focus on the birther issue is "amusing" because American voters don't "give a flying flip about" it.

The Texas senator joined conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday morning to discuss the debate and his recent, long-awaited endorsement of Trump for president.

"I thought Hillary did not have a good performance," Cruz told Hewitt. "I think throughout the night, she was tired, she was formulaic. The entire debate from Hillary was more Washington as usual. And every proposal she advanced was another big-government solution that isn’t working, that is failing. And I thought Donald had the strongest debate performance he’s had in this election cycle. I think he really went after Hillary, which was a good thing. And I think he drew strong contrast, particularly on taxes, and on regulation and on law and order, and on the disastrous Iran deal. And so I thought it was a good debate night."

Hewitt offered his own analysis of how the debate went. "Now the conventional wisdom is that she trounced him because of the birther issue and because of fading energy on the part of Donald Trump," Hewitt began. "There is a dissenting view – Nicole Wallace, Mike Brzezinski, Hugh Hewitt believe the first 35 minutes to 40 minutes were all his for the reasons you just stated, and that he kept name-checking Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan to the great advantage of his primary-state efforts there."

He asked Cruz if he agreed with him that there is "confirmation bias underway in elite media," because he thought Trump had done an effective job.

"Well, sure," he answered. "You know, anyone who is swooning at Hillary’s performance last night, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re a card-carrying member of the liberal media, especially in the first half hour. I think Donald very much had the upper hand over Hillary. Hillary was tentative and had no real answers. She was on the defensive the entire time. And the biggest thing is her answers, they sounded old and tired, and I don’t mean that in a comment on her health. I mean it on a comment on her ideas. Her ideas are rehashed 1960s Great Society, big-government programs. And to me, they did not rise to the occasion remotely. Now of course, the media is going to hyperventilate at how terrific she is, because that’s what they do. You know, the idea that they focus on the birther issue, I find thoroughly amusing, because unless you are in a college faculty hall, or the newsroom of a major newspaper, I don’t think there are a whole lot of voters in this country that give a flying flip about the birther issue. And so if the media thinks that was the takeaway from last night, I think that shows just how disconnected they are from working men and women who’ve been hammered for seven years under the Obama economy and are looking for something different. And if all Hillary cares about is screaming 'you’re a racist, you’re a racist' rather than actually providing real solutions to the challenges facing working men and women, I don’t think that’s a good debate night for her."

They both agreed that there were some "missed opportunities" last night, including Trump's failure to bring up the Supreme Court. Cruz noted that his decision to endorse Trump as the GOP standard-bearer came after he saw the list of 21 judges Trump's campaign released last Friday. Cruz was very pleased that Trump put his good friend and colleague, Senator Mike Lee, at the top of the list.

FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2013 file photo, Sen. Mile Lee, R-Utah, right, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas participate in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Donald Trump has added 10 new names to the list of judges he says he'll choose from to fill Supreme Court vacancies if he’s elected to the White House. The release, just days before the first presidential debate, appears to be yet another attempt by the GOP nominee to solidify support among conservatives still reticent about his candidacy. Among the new names: Conservative Lee, a close friend of former Trump rival Ted Cruz. Both have yet to endorse Trump for the presidency. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

"Senator Mike Lee, I think, would make an extraordinary Supreme Court justice to replace Antonin Scalia," said Cruz. "But secondly, and this was the most important part of the list, and much of the media missed this, when he put it out, he explicitly committed that the only people he would consider are the 21 names on the list. Previously, they had put out a list of 11 names, but there had been no commitment other than these are among the people we will look at. On Friday, they locked themselves in and said these 21 are the only ones up for consideration. That was a major new development, and it was a major new development exactly along the lines of what I had urged in Cleveland, which is that I wanted to see our nominee defend freedom, defend the Constitution, and the Supreme Court is going to be right at the crossroads of determining whether the Bill of Rights remains vibrant in protecting our liberties, or whether it is rendered a dead letter by a Hillary Clinton judicial activist Court."

Cruz pushed back against the charge that his endorsement was merely a political one. "If I were being political, I would have endorsed Donald Trump back in Cleveland at the convention," he argued. "That was the obvious political thing to do. If the goal were political, that’s the easy decision. It’s why almost every other elected official did so. You know, you can have lots of criticisms about me. Some people say that I fight and stick too hard to my principles and am not willing enough to compromise. That’s a fair criticism. We can have a discussion about when compromise is appropriate and when it’s not. But the reason I stood my ground in Cleveland is actually the exact same reason I made the decision on Friday, which is that I believe every voter should follow your conscience and do not stay home. Come out and vote up and down the ticket for candidates you trust to defend freedom and defend the Constitution. And I hoped in Cleveland to help push our candidate, push our nominee to the right, to embrace freedom, to embrace the Constitution, because I think that’s the only way we win. And in the weeks and months since Cleveland, I had been urging the Trump campaign repeatedly to give more specificity, especially on the Supreme Court."

Cruz said that he had a meeting about three weeks ago with GOP vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence to discuss his endorsement, and the main issue he stressed was the Supreme Court.

"Every one of our rights, whether it’s the 2nd Amendment, whether it’s religious liberty, whether it’s free speech, we’re one vote away from losing it," Cruz declared. "And for me, at least, I wanted to see greater specificity, a greater degree of comfort, that Justice Scalia’s replacement and the subsequent justices would be principled Constitutionalists. You and I both know many of the people on that list of 21. It is a terrific list, and the commitment on Friday they made that they would only nominate from that list, to me, was a big deal, and that was enough to move me over to a yes. Also, because by any measure, Hillary would be a disaster, and at this point, it is abundantly clear the election’s a binary choice. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be president. So if you don’t want Hillary, and I am very much in the Never Hillary camp, the only choice that can beat Hillary is Donald Trump."

Hewitt agreed, saying that a Clinton presidency would be a "threat to the 2nd Amendment, the overturning of Heller, the threat to the 10th Amendment and the overturning of all federalism jurisprudence of which Justice Kennedy is a part."  He added that "all of that goes out, and the expansion of the regulatory state is unchecked and it’s exponential in its growth."

Cruz told Hewitt that he would be "happy to help" in any way to defeat Hillary Clinton (which hopefully includes debate prep).

"My heavy focus this cycle, in addition to defeating Hillary, is on preserving a Republican majority in the Senate, and I am working hard to help my colleagues get reelected. I’m working hard to raise money for them, to help turn out conservatives in their state. And then I’m also working hard in the state of Texas to turn out conservatives, because if conservatives stay home this cycle, we could see really bad results on down-ticket ballots, on judicial races, on state rep races. I don’t want to see that happen. So I’m going to do everything I can to urge conservatives to come out and vote, even if they may not be thrilled at the candidates on the ballot. I’m urging them to come out and vote anyway, because the consequences of staying home, I think, are really quite significant."

Hewitt's last question pertained to Clinton's email server, which was barely mentioned during the debate.

"What do you think is going on at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, with regards to this case?" he asked the former solicitor general of Texas.

"Well, unfortunately, I think the FBI, and I think the director, James Comey, gave in to politics, and it was a corrupt decision," he answered. "It was a decision sadly that appears designed to curry favor with Barack Obama and the administration, and with Hillary Clinton, who I assume he believed would be the next administration. The FBI has a long tradition of being above and outside politics. And I think James Comey has undermined that by willfully turning a blind eye to what appears to be a deliberate, repeated pattern of criminality by Hillary Clinton. And it’s one of the many reasons why she’s manifestly unfit to be president."