BETTENDORF, Iowa—Ted Cruz told hundreds of Iowans on Monday night that the idea of a “condom police” in the United States is a “nonsense issue,” even suggesting he has never met any individual who wanted to ban contraceptives.
At a packed campaign stop in Bettendorf, Iowa, an audience member asked the Republican presidential candidate about his stance “on making contraception available for women.”
Cruz launched into an animated, four-minute response, saying that suggestions that conservatives want to cut off access to contraception is part of a fabricated effort by Democrats to persuade voters that Republicans are engaging in a “war on women.”
“Anyone who wants contraceptives can access them, but it’s an utterly made-up nonsense issue,” Cruz said to the nearly 300 people in the room.
“I have been a conservative my entire life. I have never met anybody, any conservative who wants to ban contraceptives,” he continued.
Cruz then suggested there is little reason for anyone to worry about not having access to condoms.
“Last I checked, we don’t have a rubber shortage in America,” Cruz exasperatingly said to the rather boisterous crowd. “Like look, when I was in college, we had a machine in the bathroom. You put 50 cents in -- and voila!”
The Texas senator took his defense of contraceptions a step further, indirectly providing his own family’s use as evidence, saying, “[My wife] Heidi and I, we have two little girls. I’m very glad we don’t have 17.”
Cruz paused for the next few moments after the crowd began to stir with laughs and applause as it slowly picked up on the subtle message. The remarks were a deviation from Cruz’s usual well-scripted stump speech.
But amid the raucous, Cruz laid down what could be a preview of how he will fend off accusations – which were prominent in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles -- that he and other Republicans engage in a “war on women,” especially on issues relating to women’s reproductive health.
“Republicans would curl up in a ball. They’d say, ‘Don’t hurt me,’” Cruz said, reflecting on previous elections. “Jiminy Cricket! This is a made up nonsense example.”
Cruz hypothesized that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton will try to use the same tactic over the next year to try to shift the electorate’s focus away from other political issues.
“You’re Hillary Clinton and you’re trying to think, ‘How do I run?’” Cruz asked the crowd, saying she would have difficulty campaigning on the economy, health care and foreign policy.
“So what do you do?” he followed. “You go, ‘Ah ha! The condom police. I’m going to make up a completely made up threat and try to scare a bunch of folks that are not paying a lot of attention into thinking someone’s going to steal their birth control.’ What nonsense.”
Cruz’s town halls on Monday wrapped up a whirlwind three-day, 14-stop tour through Iowa.
Also on Monday, Cruz defined – though not fully – his characterization of amnesty. To MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, the senator provided some clarification on his view.
“I consider amnesty to be forgiving the law-breaking of those who come here illegally and have no consequences -- in particular a path to citizenship,” Cruz said in Clinton, Iowa.
But Cruz did not address whether a potential path to legal status would be considered amnesty. He has yet to take a stance on how he would deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants already living in the country.
Repeatedly asked by Hunt whether giving legal status to undocumented immigrants would equate to amnesty, Cruz ignored her questions. But on Sunday, Cruz refused to take legal status off the table as a potential option in the future.
Opinions over the fate of undocumented immigrants in the country is a contentious issue in the Republican field. And Ted Cruz, specifically, has used GOP rival Marco Rubio’s previous support of a pathway to citizenship as a key attack in recent weeks.
But questions over Cruz’s own possible openness to not enforcing the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants has left some to suggest the two dueling senators’ positions are not substantially different.
“I guess Senator Rubio suggested that his and my records are the same on immigration,” Cruz told reporters, trying to draw the distinction despite a lack of specifics. “On immigration, it’d be difficult to find someone whose views are more different from mine than Marco Rubio’s.”
Cruz also on Monday addressed the candidacy of front-runner Donald Trump in his most direct terms yet.
“Let me be very clear, I don’t believe Donald Trump is going to be our nominee,” Cruz told a crowd in Coralville, Iowa. “I don’t believe he’s going to be our president. And I actually think the men and women in this room have something powerful to say about it.”
The comments, seemingly harmless, are notable because they came from Cruz, who has vowed to not “throw stones” at Trump and has praised the real estate mogul’s candidacy since the summer.
“I’m not going to blast Trump or anybody else,” he added. “In part, because every one of the thousands of people showing up at a Donald Trump rally, I want to show up on February 1st, and even more importantly on November 2016.”
Trump responded to Cruz on Monday night at a rally in Georgia that the Texas senator will have to eventually attack him to win, and though it will be a “sad day,” the Trump campaign “will hit back.”