(CNN) — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz reacted to criticism of controversial remarks his father made at an April 2012 event, when the latter urged voters to send President Barack Obama "back to Chicago, back to Kenya."
"It was an ill-advised joke," the first-term Republican senator from Texas told CNN affiliate WFAA in Dallas-Fort Worth, "and sadly, those who are trying to play the politics of personal destruction are trying to smear him and use that to attack me. That's a shame."
Cruz suggested that criticism was motivated as much by politics as by genuine outrage. He seemed to downplay the contentious comments, and he defended his father's character.
"I love my father," Cruz said Friday. "He is a pastor. He is a man of deep integrity. And he made a joke."
Cruz's father, Rafael Cruz, is an influential figure in his own right and is known for his outspoken conservative positions. He has attracted a following among tea party activists and social conservatives, and he has campaigned alongside his son on many occasions.
The controversial remarks were captured in a video first posted on the left-leaning news website Mother Jones on Thursday. The website posted that video, along with several other videos of Rafael Cruz addressing conservative groups, and the comments quickly circulated online, drawing criticism from liberals.
Sen. Cruz's statement to WFAA marks his strongest reaction so far to his father's critics.
A spokeswoman for the senator previously declined to offer comment about the elder Cruz's statements, instead referring CNN to a statement that Cruz Communications Director Sean Rushton gave to Mother Jones.
"These selective quotes, taken out of context, mischaracterize the substance of Pastor Cruz's message. Like many Americans, he feels America is on the wrong track," Rushton said in the statement, adding, "Pastor Cruz does not speak for the Senator."
Rafael Cruz's remarks are reminiscent of the so-called birther movement, led by influential figures such as Donald Trump, who have suggested that Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore ineligible to be president.
Obama responded to those critics in 2011 by releasing his long-form birth certificate, which shows that he was born in Hawaii.