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Despite suggesting Donald Trump would be a "disaster" as president and runs a campaign that "encourages violence" and "disrespects voters," Sen. Ted Cruz on Sunday reaffirmed his commitment to support the New York businessman in the general election if he becomes the GOP nominee.
Cruz said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Trump "would be a disaster" — but suggested this weekend that Hillary Clinton "would do even more damage" to the country and be "the lesser of two evils."
"If Hillary is the president, we will lose the Supreme Court for a generation [and] the Second Amendment will be written out of the Bill of Rights," Cruz said in the interview.
He also insisted that he will not waver on the commitments he made in previous months to support the eventual nominee — even if it’s Trump.
"I pledged at the outset I will support the Republican nominee whoever it is," Cruz stated.
But Cruz’s insistence on supporting Trump if he is the nominee is paired with emphatic rebukes of the same man.
“When you have a campaign that disrespects the voters, when you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence, you create an environment that only encourages this sort of nastiness," Cruz said.
He added that he is "troubled by the rallies that Donald holds," specifically questioning Trump’s request that voters pledge their support to him.
"We don’t pledge allegiance to a man," Cruz said, adding: "That is something you see kings and queens doing of their subjects."
The Texas senator also laid responsibility for the outbursts violence this past week on the protesters acting "abusively and wrong," saying the First Amendment "doesn’t give you a right to silence others."
“Whether it’s Black Lives Matter or Bernie Sanders protesters who are coming in just trying to shout down any speaker, that’s not free speech," he continued.
Cruz also compared the “demagoguery" of Trump to President Obama, who he called "a world class demagogue" for his language "designed to divide us."
The candidate responded in the interview to an audio recording of President Obama at a recent fundraiser, where the president suggested today’s political hysteria "is not an accident" and was fostered for years by people being "told we should be angry about America and that the economy’s a disaster — and that we’re weak."
Cruz fired back: "That language is the kind of self-righteous moralizing from the president that makes people angry."
Cruz took a populist message to explain the anger, saying the animosity is directed at politicians "who have been cutting deals that are enriching the rich and powerful, the special interests and the big corporations, while working men and women are seeing their wages stagnating."
Florida and Ohio — both delegate-rich states — will vote on Tuesday, when Cruz hopes the GOP field will narrow to just two men.
But tactically, it’s not clear whether Trump victories in the state would hurt or help Cruz’s chances at the nomination — though the Cruz campaign has implied for weeks its intentions to force Rubio out of the race by losing his home state.
But Cruz said his campaign is "not engaged in this delegate-denial strategy" in Florida.
Cruz pointed to the other three states also heading to the polls on Tuesday, looking at those as prospects for picking up delegates and softening the impact of potential losses in Florida and Ohio.
"I can tell you we are neck and neck right now in North Carolina," Cruz said. "We're neck and neck right now in Missouri, and we're neck and neck right now in Illinois."
When pressed on his chances of winning the nomination, Cruz did not rule out a duel with Trump at a contested convention.
But he made clear that any attempt by the Republican Party to inject an alternative candidate into a contested convention race "would be a disaster" where "people would revolt."