But the notion that a Cruz presidency would be more palatable to those concerned about Trump's anti-Muslim stance came into doubt on Thursday, when Cruz unveiled his own team of national security advisers. It includes Frank Gaffney, a man described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "one of America's most notorious Islamophobes."
Gaffney, who served in the Reagan-era Defense Department, now heads the Center for Security Policy. It's a think tank of sorts well known for promoting conspiratorial theories about the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrating the U.S. government at high levels and the Sharia system replacing American democracy.
Well aware that he is not the GOP establishment's favorite, Cruz has been urging primary voters to see him as the most likely candidate to beat Trump. But it's not clear that the Texas senator offers much of an alternative to Trump's offensive rhetoric. When Trump proposed banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. in December, Cruz said he disagreed with the idea, but he refused to criticize Trump and said, "I understand why Donald made that proposal."
Now Cruz is enlisting the help of Gaffney, the same man who created a bogus survey claiming to show that many U.S. Muslims were willing to use violence against other Americans and that even more wanted the option to be governed by Sharia. Trump later used that survey as justification for a Muslim ban.
Here are some of the more outrageous claims made by Cruz's new foreign policy adviser:
In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, Gaffney suggested that then-President Saddam Hussein had been involved in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, committed by Timothy McVeigh.
When President Barack Obama nominated Elena Kagan to serve on the Supreme Court in 2010, Gaffney accused her of being soft on Sharia during her time as dean of Harvard Law School. His group financed an ad that asked, "If Kagan tolerates promoting the injustice of Sharia law on the campus of Harvard, what kind of injustice will she tolerate in America during a lifetime on the Supreme Court?"
In 2009, Gaffney questioned whether Obama was America's first Muslim president or simply playing one. "The man now happy to have his Islamic-rooted middle name featured prominently has engaged in the most consequential bait-and-switch since Adolf Hitler duped Neville Chamberlain over Czechoslovakia at Munich," Gaffney wrote.
In 2010, Gaffney accused Obama of dismantling American missile defense capability in an act of U.S. submission to Islam. He cited a "new" Missile Defense Agency logo as evidence, suggesting that the logo appeared to be a combination of Obama's campaign symbol and the Islamic crescent and star. He later corrected that post, acknowledging that the logo was neither new nor produced under Obama's direction. (Below see the older logo on the left, which the Missile Defense Agency still uses as well, and the newer logo on the right.)
Gaffney has accused a bipartisan array of political elites of being secretly tied to the Islamist organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood, including longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and conservative heavyweights Grover Norquist and Suhail Khan.
Gaffney has objected to Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Andre Carson (D-Ind.) serving on the House Intelligence Committee because they are Muslim and therefore, he said, likely to leak information to the Muslim Brotherhood.
While the rest of the world marveled at the ignorance that led authorities in Irving, Texas, to mistake 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed's homemade clock for a bomb last year, Gaffney wrote that the school did the right thing by suspending Ahmed and calling the police. His group later honored Beth Van Duyne, the mayor of Irving and a Sharia alarmist, with the Freedom Flame Award for her "efforts to protect the Constitution."
Gaffney hosted white nationalist Jared Taylor on his radio show last fall and praised Taylor's American Renaissance website as "wonderful." During the show, Taylor challenged the idea that the desperate people now flooding into Europe are refugees, calling that description a myth "touted by liberals." When asked about the consequences of these individuals moving to Europe, Taylor said, "We have unleashed now what would not be an exaggeration to call almost demonic forces."
When Trump proposed a ban on Muslims' entry into the U.S last year, Gaffney quickly jumped to his defense. "Mr. Trump has clearly picked up on a conviction increasingly shared by millions of Americans," he wrote on his group's website. "They have begun to see the Obama administration has long been downplaying, misrepresenting and mishandling a threat more and more of us see plainly."
When Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) invited Broward County Deputy Sheriff Nazar Hamze to this year's State of the Union address, Gaffney accused Hamze of being "tied to a group that is directly linked to Hamas." He was referring to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based advocacy group.
Gaffney accused Pope Francis of having "rabidly anti-American" views after the pope said in February that it's "not Christian" to urge the deportation of undocumented immigrants and vow to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
A few years ago, it looked as though the Republican Party was ready to sever ties with Gaffney and his inflammatory claims. He was banned from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011 after accusing Norquist and Khan of ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
But since then, Gaffney has staged a comeback. GOP presidential hopefuls Cruz, Trump, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee all appeared at his group's events last year. Months ago, Cruz offered the following praise for the zealot: "Frank is a patriot, he loves this country, and he's clear-eyed about radical Islamic terrorism."
Cruz may actually believe Gaffney's conspiracy theories or he may be making a strategic calculation to link himself with Gaffney in an effort to win over some of Trump's supporters. Either way, it shows the Republican Party's willingness to embrace Islamophobia and its most vocal adherents.