(CNN) — Ted Cruz argued that since he’s the only candidate who has been able to beat Donald Trump, he’s the candidate conservatives should turn to as the chief alternative to the businessman.
“It is now apparent that the only campaign that can beat Donald Trump and that has beaten Donald Trump is our campaign,” he said in an interview on “State of the Union” with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Cruz argued that while Trump has “consistently managed to score in the 20s and 30s,” many voters view him unfavorably and are concerned about his chances in a general election.
“An awful lot of Republicans are very concerned that Donald Trump is not the right candidate to go head-to-head with Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders,” Cruz said. “And as the field narrows, we’re seeing more and more people coming to us.”
Cruz dismissed the idea that he underperformed in South Carolina, a state with a strong religious and evangelical population — both attributes that should favor him. And he downplayed Trump’s victory, arguing that his lead narrowed in recent weeks and the margin of victory should have been greater.
Cruz also swiped that Rubio should have done better in South Carolina against Trump because the Florida senator had endorsements from the state’s popular Sen. Tim Scott, and Gov. Nikki Haley. Cruz argued that when he had endorsements from evangelical leaders in Iowa, he was able to beat Trump, not place second.
“We won decisively when we had the leading players behind us,” Cruz said. “When Marco had the leading players behind him, he couldn’t come anywhere close to Donald Trump. That ought to be a real warning sign as to what state exactly is Marco going to win.”
Cruz also tried to paint Trump as being similar to Clinton on abortion, immigration and Wall Street reform.
“I believe the only way to beat the Democrats is to nominate a candidate who has a significantly different record,” Cruz said, borrowing a phrase from Ronald Reagan. He argued that by choosing him, voters would be opting for “bold colors, not pale pastels.”
Cruz said he expected more scrutiny from the Trump and Rubio campaigns as the race becomes a battle between them.
“Donald ignores everyone else because I think he views the rest of the field as not a meaningful threat and for that matter … Marco Rubio, does the same thing,” Cruz said.
Cruz said an election is “an ongoing conversation” and that as the field winnows — Jeb Bush dropped out Saturday night after a poor South Carolina finish — they’ll look to him as the most legitimate conservative in the race.
He pointed out that his own state of Texas is he called “the jewel” of Super Tuesday, the March 1st slate of contests, because it is the largest state holding a primary that day.