The straw poll at the Values Voter Summit is hardly representative of the Republican electorate as a whole. But it does reflect the outlook of a certain segment of highly engaged evangelical voters, who do play a key role in several early primary states. It is therefore noteworthy that at the Christian conservative confab this weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) won with 25 percent, substantially less than the 42 percent he won last time, but above novice politician Dr. Ben Carson, who took in 2o percent. They were followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 12 percent and Rick Santorum at 10 percent. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wound up with 7 percent.

Considering how arduously Paul has been courting Christian conservatives (trying to demonstrate his pro-Israel credentials, sticking to his definition of traditional marriage, etc.) this will be widely seen as a thumbs down on his efforts. (His bizarre obsession with eliminating foreign aid was not a winner with this crowd, and suggests he is at heart simply another extreme libertarian.) That in turn raises the question as to where his voters are going to come from if neither moderates nor religious conservatives strongly back him. One can see why he is so desperate to recruit college students, minorities and other voters outside the party; without them registering and voting in strong numbers, his chance to better his father’s showings in presidential races remains iffy.

Cruz, on the other hand, certainly has the values voters’ affection, but he will not occupy that entire space in early primaries if Huckabee, Jindal and Texas Gov. Rick Perry run as well. Perhaps to an even greater degree than Rand Paul, his candidacy, largely due to his red-hot rhetoric and leadership in last year’s government shutdown, he has become toxic with moderates, pro-business interests and most big-time donors. He also has turned off some hawks with equivocation over the Islamic State. (Note the contrast between his refusal to lay out a game plan and Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio), who declared, “[S]omebody’s boots have to be there. . . . We have no choice. These are barbarians. They intend to kill us. And if we don’t destroy them first, we’re gonna pay the price.” Now there is mature and candid leadership.)

AD
AD

Cruz would do well to expand his appeal in several respects. Even if he got the entirety of the religious right — which seems improbable — he will need to win over others in the GOP and demonstrate he is a credible commander in chief and chief executive.

His hawkishness on foreign policy is certainly a plus, but after a president who sublimated national security to politics his aides would do well to stop boasting about calibrating his foreign policy to the GOP electorate’s current opinions (the “sweet spot,” it is called). It only exaggerates his reputation as a power-eager manipulator when you hear reports like this:

While Cruz predictably saves his strongest criticism for Obama and Clinton—tying them together by repeatedly tagging the current White House approach as an “Obama-Clinton foreign policy”—he spends considerable time contrasting his positions with those of his likely rivals. In fact, Cruz’s desire to exploit Paul’s perceived weakness on foreign policy has in large part driven the Texas senator’s brand-building strategy thus far. It’s certainly what has led Cruz to focus early and often on establishing friends in the pro-Israel community of voters and donors, which remains wary of the libertarian from Kentucky.
Cruz has never been shy about showing solidarity with the Jewish state. (It backfired recently when he walked off stage to the sound of booing at an event for persecuted Middle East Christians after telling attendees they had “no greater ally” than Israel.)
Cruz has made three trips to Israel in less than two years in office. He has referenced the country thousands of times on the Senate floor, according to the Congressional Record. He has even begun meeting privately with Jewish leaders and advocacy groups during recent trips to early primary states. To leave no doubts, Cruz welcomes visitors to his personal office with a large, framed photograph of himself, his wife, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sources close to Cruz say much of this is meant to exploit the anxiety within the pro-Israel movement about Paul, who once echoed his father in suggesting an end to Israeli foreign aid.

It doesn’t exactly give you a warm, fuzzy feeling about his national security views, does it? He would avoid glaring inconsistencies in his views on the Islamic State, for example, if he put foreign policy first and let the politics take care of itself.

AD
AD

He should also stop mimicking Paul’s paranoia about the National Security Agency. In fact, he has the perfect opening to take on big business and defend America by objecting to Apple’s and Google’s new operating systems that lock out the NSA. I suppose Google and Apple will become the terrorists’ technology companies of choice. But there is no excuse for endangering all Americans in order to cater to the paranoia stirred up over a legitimate and necessary data-gathering program that is helping to detect terrorist plots. Why not go after these behemoths, showing both a populist zeal and understanding of the war against jihadists? The FBI has already expressed concerns. Would not a serious contender for the presidency do the same?

He would do well toget serious about the defense budget and put emphasis on entitlement reform, which is the true driver of debt. He should be joining, if not leading, military officials, lawmakers of both parties and outside experts who acknowledge the current sequestration cuts are dangerously unrealistic.

Finally, as a freshman legislator he has the luxury of fighting for the sake of fighting. But can he unify and lead? What does he want to accomplish other than stir the far right? At some point he will have to tell voters if he wants to run for president. At this point, aside from undoing everything Obama has done, it is unclear what his own agenda would be.

AD
AD

When and if he assumes coherent and responsible positions on critical issues, we will find out if he has broader appeal or if he is simply the latest darling (after Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and other non-serious contenders for the presidency) to stir the religious right. That will still leave the issue of character. His abrasiveness and blinding ambition make him a star on the right, but others may doubt if it is such a great idea to elect another freshman senator whose primary achievement is rhetorical and whose defining characteristic often seems to be arrogance.

AD
AD