WASHINGTON — Republican Ted Cruz picked up a key endorsement Wednesday from Jeb Bush, who said their party must beat back the “the divisiveness and vulgarity” of front-running New York billionaire Donald Trump.
Bush’s endorsement came after Trump won the Republican primary in Arizona on Tuesday but lost the Utah caucus to Cruz, the first-term Texas senator and ultra-conservative beacon in a race for the party’s presidential nomination that has caused a near civil war among Republicans.
Bush, once seen as the likely nominee but whose candidacy never gained momentum, tweeted Wednesday that Cruz is a “consistent, principled conservative who has shown he can unite the party.” Bush added on Facebook that Republicans “must overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena” or risk losing to Hillary Clinton, the increasingly likely Democratic nominee.
Clinton won in Arizona on Tuesday but lost to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Utah and Idaho.
Cruz has drawn a sharp rebuke from Muslim Americans and civil rights groups over his response Tuesday to the Islamic State group-claimed attacks in Belgium. He said authorities should be empowered to “patrol and secure Muslim neighbourhoods before they become radicalized.”
Both Clinton and Trump used the attacks on the Brussels airport and subway that left dozens dead as a chance to level bitter assaults on one another.
“This is about not only selecting a president, but also selecting a commander-in-chief,” Clinton said as she condemned Trump by name and denounced his embrace of torture and hardline rhetoric aimed at Muslims. “The last thing we need is leaders who incite more fear.”
Trump, in turn, branded Clinton as “Incompetent Hillary” in an interview with Fox News as he discussed her tenure as secretary of state. “Incompetent Hillary doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” the billionaire businessman said. “She doesn’t have a clue.”
Clinton and Trump’s Republican rivals questioned his temperament and readiness to serve as commander in chief, and condemned his calls to diminish U.S. involvement with NATO. Belgium is a NATO ally.
Addressing supporters in Seattle, Clinton said the Brussels attacks were a pointed reminder of “how high the stakes are” in 2016.
“We don’t build walls or turn our back on our allies,” she said. “We can’t throw out everything we know about what works and what doesn’t and start torturing people.”
Cruz criticized Trump’s foreign policy while declaring that the U.S. is at war with the Islamic State group.
“He doesn’t have the minimal knowledge one would expect from a staffer at the State Department, much less from the commander in chief,” Cruz told reporters. “The stakes are too high for learning on the job.”
Trump’s brash tone appeared to turn off some Republican voters in Utah, where Cruz claimed more than half of the caucus vote and all 40 of the state’s delegates.
But in Arizona, Trump earned all of the state’s 58 delegates.
Trump is still short of the majority of delegates needed to clinch the nomination before the party’s national convention this summer. But he has a path to the nomination if he continues to win states that award all or most of their delegates to the winner.
The remaining Republican candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, was shut out Tuesday.
Overall, Trump has 739 delegates, Cruz has 465 and Kasich 143. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination.
On the Democratic side, Clinton’s delegate advantage is even greater. Including superdelegates, or the party insiders who can support whoever they like, she leads the Vermont senator 1,681 to 927. A candidate needs 2,383 delegates to capture the nomination.