FORT MILL, South Carolina — Ted Cruz drew the clearest distinctions in the campaign yet between Donald Trump and himself Saturday morning, questioning the frontrunner's past stance on abortion and gay marriage.
"I would note that Donald's record does not match what he says as a candidate," Cruz said before a campaign stop in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
The back-and-forth pokes between Trump and Cruz ignited on Tuesday when Cruz appeared on a radio show and suggested his chief opponent held "New York values."
To make his point, Cruz has rehashed a Meet the Press interview from 1999 in which Donald Trump told then-moderator Tim Russert that as a New Yorker, on issues like gay marriage and abortion, his "views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa, perhaps."
Cruz again mentioned that 1999 interview on Saturday to point out his differences with Trump.
"I don't understand [Trump's] frenzied response because when Donald Trump was talking to Tim Russert, explaining how he's very pro-choice, explaining how he supported partial birth abortion, explaining how he was open to gay marriage, his explanation — this is Donald's explanation, not mine," Cruz told reporters.
Cruz campaign aides told NBC News this week that this is the time in a campaign when "contrasts" are made.
Cruz, down by 13 percentage points to Trump in the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, also critiqued Trump's use of Twitter.
"I think in terms of a commander-in-chief, we ought to have someone who isn't springing out of bed to tweet in a frantic response to the latest polls," Cruz said.
Just hours earlier, Trump had launched a tweet storm, sending several tweets that knocked Cruz over reports that he failed to disclose loans to the Federal Election Commission during his Senate run and questions over his eligibility for the presidency because of his birth in Canada.
In one, Trump tweeted: "Ted Cruz said he 'didn't know' that he was a Canadian Citizen. He also FORGOT to file his Goldman Sachs Million $ loan papers. Not believable."
In recent days, Cruz has faced a backlash from the likes of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his criticism of the Empire State's supposed liberal values. There were widespread calls for Cruz to apologize, which he did — albeit in a purposefully twisted way.
"I will apologize," Cruz noted on Friday night at a campaign rally. "I apologize to the millions of New Yorkers who have been abandoned for years by liberal politicians."
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On Saturday morning, Cruz — as part of his widespread criticism of Trump — then directly connected Trump to the New Yorkers, including Hillary Clinton, who came to his defense.
"Given the fact that for much of his life, Donald was financially supporting those politicians, writing checks to Hillary Clinton, writing checks to Andrew Cuomo, it's a fair inference that he supports their policies," Cruz said. "So I understand that he is feeling defensive about my observation."
And when asked by a reporter about his thoughts on Trump's national security positions, Cruz gave an exasperated response.
"Look, to be honest, I don't know what Donald Trump's position is," Cruz demurred.