— -- Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz emerged from his nearly hour-long meeting with Donald Trump smiling and vowing that the two men won’t let a presidential race get in the way of a blossoming friendship.
“He's running and I'm running and we both agreed that we started out as friends and we'll end as friends," Cruz said. "You know, Donald and I have gotten together and visited a number of times before he was a presidential candidate and it was good to visit."
Cruz described the meeting between the two men as “terrific” and called Trump, “one of a kind.” The Texas senator said it was the first time the two had met privately since Trump announced his presidential candidacy. When asked if Cruz had asked for Donald Trump’s presidential endorsement in their private meeting, Cruz said, “No.”
At a time when many of the Republican presidential candidates are choosing to distance themselves from Trump, Cruz seems to be moving closer to the billionaire real estate mogul. Trump’s controversial comments about Mexican immigrants have drawn criticism from Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and other members of the 2016 GOP field, but not from Cruz.
"He doesn't speak the way I speak, but I appreciate his highlighting the problem of illegal immigration,” said Cruz outside Trump Tower.
The Trump-Cruz confab, first reported by the Washington Post, is a fresh example of the close bond between the two men even as they remain rivals in the Republican nominating contest.
Cruz has repeatedly defended Trump ever since he announced his presidential candidacy and compared Mexican immigrants to "rapists."
"I am proud to stand with Donald Trump. I like him and respect him," Cruz said in a recent interview on the Fox Business network.
And in a recent interview with Fox & Friends, Trump returned the favor, praising Cruz for being "very brave" to support him. He also has tweeted his thanks to the Texas senator when Cruz has defended him.
Rick Tyler, a top Cruz campaign aide, told ABC News that although his candidate "probably wouldn't have used the same words in the same way he uses it," referring to Trump's bluntness when it comes to discussing immigrants, "he credits him for raising the issue of immigration."
But Cruz, himself, has been more effusive, recently telling radio host Mike Gallagher, "With respect to Donald Trump, it's been unfortunate to see other Republicans taking shots at him. You know, he is focusing on an incredibly important issue which is illegal immigration and the threat it poses to our nation."
Cruz and Trump have a public history of supporting one another stretching back to 2013.
"I don't find it any accident that Ted Cruz is not out there condemning Donald Trump," said Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator and former Reagan administration official who recalls watching the two men interact at an awards dinner in 2013.
"They were very gracious to one another from the podium and Trump spoke well of him and Cruz followed Trump and said some nice things about Donald," Lord said in an interview with ABC News.
Call it the bond of being an outsider. The two men have openly lamented the way Washington works. Lord suspects they'd rather stick together against what he calls the more "insider" Republican Party candidates.
"What they share is an exceedingly dim view of the Republican establishment," he said, "and that kind of bond can go a long way particularly in a situation like this."
Michael Barnett, the chair of the Palm Beach County Republicans, recalled a similar scene between Cruz and Trump at the group's annual Lincoln Day dinner in February 2014, held at Trump's Mar-A-Lago club.
When Barnett, who was seated near Cruz, got up, Trump swooped in.
"Donald Trump snuck into my seat and they had a chance to talk," Barnett said. "I don't know what they talked about. They seemed friendly with each other."
And that night, in what has continued to be a pattern, Trump defended Cruz against criticism from fellow Republicans.
"They hit him harder than they hit the Democrats. If they'd hit the Democrats that hard, it would be a lot easier in life, but he took a stand and it was a brave stand," Trump said, adding, "He really is a special guy."