FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz blamed President Barack Obama on Thursday for a climate of violence against police, contending the president and his administration have long vilified law enforcement.
His unsparing appraisal came in an Associated Press interview between campaign stops and mere days after the slaying of a deputy in Cruz's hometown of Houston, allegedly by a man with a history of mental illness.
"There are unfortunate, tragic consequences when the president of the United States repeatedly vilifies law enforcement and when that rhetoric is amplified by the Department of Justice, when it's amplified by politicians across this country," Cruz said in the interview.
Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth was the sixth officer in the nation shot and killed in August alone, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks on-duty officer deaths. But the 25 firearms-related deaths of officers so far this year are down from 30 at this time in 2014.
The Texas senator said police have been demonized throughout Obama's presidency.
"If you look at our law enforcement, they've had six and a half years of vilification, demonization," Cruz said, speaking on the way to the airport as he jetted among three stops in Texas, where he hadn't made campaign appearances in several weeks.
"When the police withdraw because they've been demonized," he added, between long swigs from a bottle of water, "tragically the communities that pay the biggest price are minority communities that are already facing crime challenges."
Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked about the president's thinking on the importance of protecting law enforcement through efforts such as the "blue lives matter" campaign and whether he would deliver an address on the value of officers' lives:
Earnest said the president, in an address to Congress in January, "talked about the right of a husband or wife to welcome their spouse, who serves in law enforcement, home at night." He said Obama believes "that profession and that commitment is not just worthy of our respect, it's worthy of our praise and the president is deeply grateful to law enforcement officials across the country who faithfully do that every single day."
Earnest noted that the president had spoken with Goforth's widow on Monday. In a statement released after that call, Obama said he promised her that he would continue to highlight the bravery that police officers show every day.
"They put their lives on the line for our safety," Obama said. "Targeting police officers is completely unacceptable, an affront to civilized society."
Cruz's mood was lighter earlier, as he addressed more than 1,000 screaming, sweating supporters at Fort Worth's stockyards, which date back to the 1800s and where the preferred footwear remains cowboy boots.
"We love you!" shrieked two women in the front row as Cruz strode on stage, to which the candidate shouted "and I love you, too!" before throwing his head back and exclaiming, "It is GOOD to be home."
Also Thursday, Cruz attended an East Texas tea party rally before keynoting a conservative grassroots event in Houston. State Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has been indicted on securities fraud charges allegedly committed before he took office in January, appeared at the same event — but didn't share a stage with Cruz.
The first-term senator has previously praised Paxton as a conservative warrior, but been more tight-lipped amid his recent legal troubles.
Cruz's return to Texas comes as Donald Trump has climbed to the top of state polls, mirroring his rise nationally in the GOP primary.
Trump is set to attend a joint rally in Washington with Cruz to protest the nuclear deal with Iran. Cruz said he invited Trump to that gathering because the billionaire draws so much attention.
Cruz shrugged off suggestions he's having to defend his home state in the primary race. Asked before the Fort Worth rally about his GOP primary rivals making frequent Texas trips, he said he's got "a tremendous base of support here and so they may discover a difficult path."
"The ethos of this great state is, 'Give me a horse, a gun and an open field and I can conquer the world,'" Cruz said, "and we need to return to those values."
Associated Press writers Nancy Benac and Kevin Freking contributed to this report from Washington.