Washington (CNN)Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said on Wednesday that President Barack Obama had "inflamed racial tensions" during his time in office.
Cruz: Obama has 'inflamed' racial tensions
Speaking to members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the media, Cruz pointedly attacked the president for repeated missed opportunities to lead on race issues since he came into office.
"He's made decisions that I think have inflamed racial tensions -- that have divided us rather than bring us together," the Texas senator said. "We need leadership that brings us together rather than trying to divide us."
Cruz, who became visibly emotional talking about Baltimore during the hour and a half discussion of an array of issues facing the country, called for prayers for the victims of the violence and a fair investigation to find out what happened to Freddie Gray. Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died while in police custody and thrust Baltimore into turmoil.
He cited Vice President Joe Biden's warning to an African-American audience that Republicans would "put you back in chains" during the 2012 campaign as proof of the kind of "incendiary and hateful rhetoric" that splits people apart.
Cruz could offer no specific examples on what he could do as President to address the tensions among minority communities when he was pressed.
"No. 1, most importantly, it comes to tone and language and rhetoric," he said. "Not having the President inflaming racial tensions, rather have the President working to appeal to our shared values."
Making a quick turn to his campaign for the White House, he spoke about his support for criminal justice reform and the president attacking gun owners after the shooting in Sandy Hook rather than focus on violent criminals which he mentioned as a case of division.
Asked again by CNN's Dana Bash for specific examples of how Obama had inflamed racial tensions, Cruz answered with broad reflections on leadership.
"I think he has not used his role as President to bring us together. He has exacerbated racial misunderstandings, racial tensions, from back at the beer summit to a series of efforts to pit Americans against each other," he said. "And part of the problem is the way he advocates for any given plan is to paint ... is to build a straw man of the opposition and then vilify caricatures."
The President, Cruz explained, had vilified people opposed to Obamacare and those who opposes the current Iran nuclear negotiations. He did not cite an example founded from racial conflicts.
Obama, the nation's first African-American president, spoke at length about Baltimore and race Tuesday at the White House.
"There's no excuse for the kind of violence ... It is counterproductive," Obama said of the violent protests.
"Since Ferguson ... we have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals -- primarily African-American, often poor -- in ways that have raised troubling questions," Obama said. "This has been a slow-rolling crisis. This has been going on for a long time. This is not new, and we shouldn't pretend that it's new."