Easy there, Trump fans. He prefaced his answer here by saying he’s still a big fan of you know who.

This is a better response than Rubio gave last night, but that’s to be expected. Cruz is a “conservatarian,” Rubio is a Cheney-esque hawk. Bring up radicalization to Rubio and he’s going to go into “whatever it takes” mode. Bring it up to Cruz and you’re going to get more civil-libertarian considerations mixed in.

Advantage: Cruz.

Cruz has been careful not to attack Trump on the trail, likely because he hopes to scoop up Trump supports if the business mogul drops out of the race. So he was careful to couch his statement by beginning, “I’m a big fan of Donald Trump’s,” Politico reports.

“But I’m not a fan of government registries of American citizens,” Cruz continued. “The First Amendment protects religious liberty, I’ve spent the past several decades defending religious liberty.”

In fairness, Rubio and Cruz were asked different questions. Rubio was asked about closing down mosques, Cruz was asked about a registry. Then again, Cruz’s point is that we don’t infringe on religious liberty just because it might make it easier for the government to go after radicals. Rubio could have said the same thing about mosques — target the individual inciters, not the broader community by shutting down their place of worship. How come he didn’t? The difference between them on this is similar to the difference between them on the USA Freedom Act. Rubio renewed that attack on Cruz (without mentioning him by name) in his answer last night on mosques when he said that some in his own party have helped Obama diminish America’s intelligence capabilities. That’s been his core critique of Cruz since he first brought up the USA Freedom Act a few days ago. Because Cruz voted for a bill that would leave metadata in the hands of telecoms and require the feds to get a warrant to access that data for a phone number that’s been used to contact a terror suspect, Cruz has supposedly kneecapped the NSA. Here again, Rubio errs on the side of more federal power in the name of natsec and Cruz tempers that — modestly — with a compromise that would preserve a little more privacy at the expense of government power.

Cruz is going to get smacked for this by some righties, not because he came out against registries but because he refused to ride to Trump’s defense by attacking the media for asking gotcha questions and putting words in Trump’s mouth. (Why it’s not Trump’s fault for flatly rejecting the questions when they were asked instead of stumbling through with non-answers about how we need to do more to fight terror, I don’t know.) But there’s a reason Cruz didn’t dodge here or scold the media. I think he likes the contrast this sort of question sets up for him. No one thinks he’s “soft on jihad” or whatever; his proposed bill to bar Syrian refugees if they’re Muslim should reassure anyone who might. The squabble with Rubio over the USA Freedom Act and now his take on registries are his way of signaling libertarians and other Republicans who are irritated by the chatter about databases and mosque-closings lately that he’d be better than either of his two main competitors on civil liberties. I noticed. Other undecideds will too.

Update: And now here’s Trump accusing the reporter of putting words in his mouth

Here’s the clip if you missed it earlier. The reporter suggests a database, Trump goes on to say, “I would certainly implement that, absolutely,” and then when the reporter asks him what it would achieve, he says it would help keep illegals out. I thought that was going to be the key when he inevitably commented on this today — that he’s claim either, as Joel Pollak suggested, that he was talking about Muslims who’d recently entered the U.S., not American citizens, or that he didn’t hear the question or whatever and doesn’t really think the idea of a registry is a good one. Nope.