There seems at times to be two GOP Sen. Ted Cruzes. Both were visible over the weekend.
The mature and statesman-like Cruz (R-Tex.) appeared on “ABC’s This Week.” He laid out an indictment of the president:
CRUZ: Well, look, all of us celebrate with Sergeant Bergdahl, with his family, I mean, looking at his parents there, I mean, that’s emotional and it’s powerful.
At the same time the terms of the deal are very troubling.
CRUZ: Well, for one thing, how many soldiers lost their lives to capture those five Taliban terrorists that we just released? You know, Ambassador Rice basically said to you, yes, U.S. policy has changed. Now we make deals with terrorists.
And the question going forward is, have we just put a price on other U.S. soldiers? What does this tell terrorists, that if you capture a U.S. soldier, you can trade that soldier for five terrorists we’ve gone after? . . . It’s not the only way. We can go in and use military force, as needed, to rescue our fallen compatriots. But, look, Sergeant Bergdahl was fighting to capture these terrorists.
Can you imagine what he would say to his fallen comrades who lost their lives to stop these people who were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for threatening or taking U.S. civilian lives.
I mean, that’s why we sent our soldiers there. And the idea that we’re now making trades, what does that do for every single soldier stationed abroad? It says the reason why the U.S. has had the policy for decades of not negotiating with terrorists is because once you start doing it, every other terrorist has an incentive to capture more soldiers. . . .
I think it is very disturbing that we are releasing five acknowledged terrorist Taliban leaders in a deal with terrorists. That precedent and — you know, unfortunately, George, it’s part and parcel with the pattern we’ve seen of the Obama administration across the board.
He went on to lay out a critique of Obama’s foreign policy in general, one he argued that has left “our allies are expressing over and over again is that leadership is missing. And the most frequent thing you hear when you talk to an ambassador, a foreign minister of our friends and allies is they pull you aside quietly in hushed tones; they say, ‘Where is America?’ When America’s weak, when the American president is weak, it leaves our friends and allies vulnerable.” On Ukraine he advocated a sensible policy: “We should, number one, right now, install the anti-ballistic missile batteries in Eastern Europe, in Poland, the Czech Republic, that were scheduled to go in 2009, that President Obama canceled in an effort to appease Putin. That hadn’t worked. And number two, we should be using energy as a tool to help liberate the Ukrainian people and to impose costs on Putin. There are over 20 applications to export liquid natural gas bottled up in the Obama administration. He should approve them because that would be a meaningful step to stand with the Ukrainian people and free them from Russia’s economic blackout.” Neither involves anything close to boots on the ground; indeed, he is within the bipartisan and mainstream opposition to the president’s feeble stance toward Russia.
And Cruz gave a succinct but controlled critique of Hillary Clinton:
[H]er policies, domestically and internationally, haven’t worked, that domestically the Obama economic agenda is a disaster; we’ve got the lowest labor force participation since 1978; millions of hardworking Americans, their lives have gotten harder.
And internationally the Obama-Clinton foreign policy is a disaster. Every region of the world has gotten worse; America has weakened, our enemies have been strengthened. We’re in the middle of cutting a deal right now with Iran that I fear is repeating the mistakes of the Clinton administration in 1990s, setting up Iran, acquiring nuclear weapons capability.
That hit the mark — it was policy- and not personality-driven and a contrast between the failed liberal policies of the past and the outcomes liberals actually “achieved.”
But the problematic Cruz — critics would say the undisciplined and utterly unreasoned Ted Cruz — put in appearance this weekend as well. In a straw poll appearance in New Orleans (which he won) and again on ABC, he was still bragging – yes, bragging – about the government shutdown, claiming it made Obamacare a top issue. (He called it “elevating the debate.”) I’m sorry, but this is nuts. Obamacare was a huge issue before the shutdown, and only when the shutdown ended could the GOP fully articulate its message about its failings. To say otherwise suggests a lack of respect for his audience or (and I think this is less likely) self-deception. It is this Ted Cruz that big donors and mainstream conservatives shy away from. (There is nothing wrong with Cruz saying, by the way, that things didn’t work out so well, but the end of the GOP didn’t occur as his harshest critics claimed.)
On ABC, he was a bit more sober in withholding self-congratulations for the shutdown, but still played to the aggrieved and paranoid base at the expense of winning Republicans: “Some in Washington think the way you win is you put your head; you don’t rock the boat, you don’t stand for anything. Every time we do that, George, we lose. From the perspective of the Democrats, they’ve got to be thrilled when Republicans do that because in ’06 it failed; in ’08, it failed; in ’12, it failed.” But it is working in 2014, and his argument posits that a more extreme and intemperate nominee the last two elections would have improved the GOP’s chances. Where’s the proof of that? Unfortunately, his faux indictment of his potential rivals doesn’t tell us anything about what Cruz would do. He’d do better to stop the sanctimony and start laying out an agenda.
The existence of the mature, capable Ted Cruz on foreign policy leads one to believe the wild-eyed Ted Cruz is a put-on. But as far as presidential politics go, it is also a turn-off. The Obama years have left Americans longing for responsible, grownup leadership. That applies to both foreign and domestic policy. Truth be told, Cruz need not play to the far-right cranks that cheered on the shutdown; they are a sliver of a sliver of Republicans. There is plenty of room to run to the right of a pack of Midwestern governors. But not if he keeps congratulating himself on the shutdown.