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Cruz blames birther talk on 'Washington cartel,' not Trump

Donald Trump made Ted Cruz's birthplace an issue this week, but the senator refuses to break the truce.

MASON CITY, Iowa – The truce between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz has been tested in recent days, but it seems to remain intact – at least for now. 

Trump was responsible this week for raising questions about whether Cruz’s Canadian birthplace disqualified him from the presidency. But aside from one snarky tweet only indirectly responding and an offhand comment Friday about Trump's plane, Cruz has refused to fire back.

When Cruz received his first question on the issue from an actual voter – so far only reporters have asked him about it – at a town hall meeting at a church here Friday, Cruz blamed the media and Washington elites for raising the issue -- not Trump.

“I have never breathed a breath of air on this planet when I was not a U.S. citizen,” Cruz said, explaining that his mother’s U.S. citizenship conferred him with the same status. “It was the process of being born that made me a U.S. citizen. And so the legal issue is straightforward."

"But I’ll tell you, the reason that it’s being talked about now is really two fold,” he continued. “Number one, what we’re seeing here in Iowa and across the country is conservatives are uniting. They’re coming together. Now, I have to tell you the Washington cartel is terrified out of their minds,” he added. “And you’re seeing a lot of folks in the media love to chatter about this. But you know, one of the great things about what we’re doing is the time for the media chatter and the games has passed."

But Cruz's analysis speaks more to his desire not to offend Trump or his supporters than reality.

RELATED: Trump gives Cruz legal advice on citizenship

The only time Cruz mentioned Trump by name was to say that not long ago, all the other Republican candidates were attacking Trump, but now they’re attacking Cruz, which he took to be a sign of his strength.

In fact, some GOP establishment figures like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, none of whom like Cruz, have defended Cruz’s presidential eligibility. Meanwhile, Trump and allies like conservative commentator Ann Coulter, who is supporting the billionaire real estate mogul, continue to raise questions about Cruz’s eligibility. Cruz directed his first response to the birther questions at Trump, after all.

Trump and Cruz have had an apparent alliance for months, with both candidates refusing to attack each other directly. Trump seemed to break that peace by invoking Cruz's birthplace. But Cruz seems to have no desire to respond, wary of provoking a damaging response from Trump or alienating the large number of voters who find both candidates appealing. 

Cruz -- who has been crisscrossing Iowa with a schedule jam-packed with low-key stops along the way -- was only slightly more willing to criticize Trump's approach to campaigning. Trump will hold a rally a few towns over from Mason City on Saturday, but he won't linger in the state long. When a reporter noted that Cruz stops at restaurants and convenience stores while Trump flies in and out of the state on his private plane, Cruz only barely took the bait. "I feel confident that I’m never going to have a plane with my name painted on it," he quipped, before launching into an unrelated speech about Obama's foreign policy.