Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) (Senate TV via Associated Press)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) isn’t hiding his presidential ambitions. A close former aide just took charge of a Cruz political action committee. The senator is traveling to Iowa and New Hampshire, states with early presidential contests. And, most important, he’s going after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Cruz already let it be known that he doesn’t buy Paul as a Reaganite on foreign policy. In recent days, Cruz, unlike Paul, signed on to a Senate letter warning the president about a phony deal with Iran and insisting the Senate must have a say in lifting sanctions. Today, he turned it up a notch with a full-throated statement in support of tough measures to counter Russian aggression:

The President should begin the process of withdrawing from New START according to the provision of Article XIV(3) of the Treaty, which declares “Each party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests;

The Secretary of Defense should engage in a full re-assessment of our missile defense posture in Europe with the purpose of restoring or expanding the installations cancelled in 2009; and

The Secretary of Defense should, in conjunction with this work, engage in a thorough review of the delays and costs over-runs of the existing missile defense programs for Europe with the goal of accelerating their scheduled implementation.

These simple steps would send a clear and unequivocal signal to Vladimir Putin that the United States is unafraid to stand with our allies for our own national security interests.

Today his sights are set on Ukraine, but if he continues undeterred tomorrow it could be Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, the Czech Republic, or Poland.  Meeting his challenge now with strength, not appeasement, would be the best way to ensure that this does not happen, and that we do not squander our hard-won Cold War victory over the Soviets.

Rand Paul grudgingly criticized Putin after he was dinged for his criticism of fellow Republicans whom he derided for “tweaking” Putin. Cruz’s robust foreign policy is in the mode of Reagan-George W. Bush- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)- Mitt Romney. Both on Iran and Russia, score one for Cruz, who is right on policy and has captured the zeitgeist on the right.

Cruz also took on Paul on another front. The Des Moines Register reports:

Paul, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, said in a recent interview that the GOP should “agree to disagree” on social issues so the party doesn’t alienate younger voters.

Cruz, in an interview with The Des Moines Register on Tuesday, said that Republicans “should continue to defend life and that we should continue to defend traditional marriage.”

Paul’s move was reminiscent of former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ similar comment about a “truce” on social issues, which put him in deep water with social conservatives; Cruz plainly thinks that message won’t fly in a socially conservative state such as Iowa. (Paul’s laissez-faire stance on abortion puts him to the left of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, by the way, who has remained strongly pro-life.)

What we see, I think, is a miscalculation by Paul about how to expand the party and his own appeal. He cannot, as we’ve discussed before, find sufficient libertarian replacements for evangelical primary voters who are staunchly Reaganite, pro-Israel on foreign policy and pro-life. The latter are too numerous and too active in primary states to ignore, let alone put off, as Paul has done.

Cruz has his own problems. His bellicose language, lack of executive experience and participation in the shutdown have earned him perhaps the permanent enmity of GOP moderates, independents and large donors. Should Texas Gov. Rick Perry run, Cruz will have to scramble to nail down Texas moneymen. For now, however, he’s betting that his brand of full-throated hawkishness on foreign policy and his embrace of social conservatism will clip Paul’s wings. He may be right.

What would be an effective method of widening the party and expanding its message? A blue-collar candidate or one with blue-collar appeal who is strong on national security, experienced as an executive, embraced by social conservatives and bearing a pro-jobs, pro-energy, pro-opportunity message certainly has the ability to capture the GOP nomination without writing off most of the electorate. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, anyone? Perhaps another former congressman and now Midwest governor? John Kasich of Ohio comes to mind. The field is open for a reassuring conservative who can bring together business and grassroots conservatives, insiders and members of the base and stand a good chance of beating Hillary Clinton.