NYC Skyline (AP photo)
"Like that's a bad thing?" said Willie Perry, a real estate salesman and registered Republican, as he headed to work in New York City. "Actually it's a good thing. I think that's ludicrous. What did he mean by that?"
John Markowski, a minister who was dropping his son off at a public school, said: "It's insulting for anyone to make a derogatory comment about New York values. I think we pride ourselves on being a place of diversity and equality."
Cruz's comments also raised hackles in some quarters because, historically, saying something is "too New York" has sometimes been a euphemism for "too Jewish."
Mark Silk, a professor of religion in public life at Trinity College, said that while he has no reason to believe that Cruz is anti-Semitic, "he's conjuring up an image of a fast-talking, secular, money-preoccupied, media-saturated New York character. That's a caricature, I would say, of a certain kind of Jew."
During the debate, moderator Maria Bartiromo asked Cruz to explain past comments he had made about Trump embodying "New York values."
"You know, I think most people know exactly what New York values are," the candidate said.
"I am from New York. I don't," Bartiromo said.
So the GOP conservative explained: "Listen, there are many, many wonderful, wonderful working men and women in the state of New York. But everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay-marriage, focus around money and the media."
Trump responded movingly by citing the city's response to 9/11.
"When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York," he said to applause from the crowd in North Charleston, South Carolina. He added: "I have to tell you, that was a very insulting statement that Ted made."
Rep. Steve King, a conservative Iowa Republican who supports Cruz, suggested on CNN that Cruz's remark had backfired, saying, "It would have been better on the part of Ted Cruz not to have had that exchange."
"I thought it was one of the times when you saw Donald Trump actually show you more of his heart than we've seen on the campaign trail," King said.
One in 38 Americans lives in New York City, but the state's record of going for the Democrat in the winner-take-all electoral college system means Republicans rarely have to worry about insulting the populace.
Bashing the big city has long been a winning strategy in more conservative parts of the country, namely the Midwest and the South. (Likewise, New Yorkers have long been famous for looking down their noses at — well, everyone).
Not a lot of New Yorkers have given money to Cruz's bid for the White House. His campaign took in only about $487,000 from New York contributors through Sept. 30, according to the most recent filings. But one New Yorker, Wall Street hedge fund mogul Robert Mercer, contributed $11 million last April to a super PAC that supports Cruz.
Cruz "has no trouble taking money from New York City, but he's quick to insult our people and our values," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat.