Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are in single digits in the presidential primary race, but that has only intensified their shameful pandering and call for lawlessness.

They are decrying the court case against Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as the Supreme Court held. Cruz, with all of his usual subtlety, calls this “tyranny.” Paul denounces punishing someone for “exercising their religious liberty.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal agree. An outrage that this woman should have to follow the law! At least Cruz, who is a lawyer, knows better.

Both took an oath when entering the Senate: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” It does not say — except when I don’t think it is right. It does not say — except if I disagree with the Supreme Court.

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They and all public officials have a responsibility to carry out the laws. It is their job to do so, not to pick and choose among them. Isn’t that what they criticize President Obama for doing — refusing to faithfully execute all the laws? The clerk does not get to take an oath, take her salary and then decide not to do part of her job. The way to “accommodate” her is to let her get another job she is willing to carry it out in full.

Carly Fiorina gets it: “While I disagree with this court’s decision, their actions are clear. And so I think in this particular case, this woman now needs to make a decision that’s [about] conscience: Is she prepared to continue to work for the government, be paid for by the government, in which case she needs to execute the government’s will, or does she feel so strongly about this that she wants to sever her employment with the government and go seek employment elsewhere where her religious liberties would be paramount over her duties as a government employee.” So does New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (reminding voters that public officials have a “different obligation“).

At a press availability Thursday Jeb Bush also stood up for the rule of law, telling reporters, “She is sworn to uphold the law, and it seems to me that there ought to be common ground, there ought to be big enough space for her to act on her conscience and for, now that the law is the law of the land for a gay couple to be married in whatever jurisdiction that is.” He reasonably suggested that “there ought to be a way to figure this out. There are ways that other places are looking at, which is to say, we will not, you don’t have to exercise this responsibility, we’ll have someone else in the office do it, so that you can maintain your religious conscience, which I think is appropriate, but people have the right to be able to get a certificate of marriage.”

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If candidates don’t understand this basic concept, they have no business running for chief executive. Are they also going to selectively enforce the law? Perhaps they should provide a list of laws they do not intend to uphold. Aside from the presidency, Cruz and Paul are not living up to their existing oath to defend the Constitution. Kentucky voters should keep this in mind when Paul runs for re-election next year. The urge to lawlessness — as Huckabee and Jindal first displayed when they declared states did not need to obey the court — makes a mockery of their professed respect for the “rule of law.” Another populist made a similar appeal — George Wallace when he stood in the schoolroom door and other segregationists who refused for years to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

Lots of explanations have been offered for the rise of Trumpism. But part of the blame must be put on public officials, who surely know better but nevertheless pander to the lowest common denominator, taking deeply cynical and ludicrous positions. They have so lowered the debate in the country that one barely has to stoop down to reach Trump’s level. When you play to the public’s ignorance and incite lawlessness, you open the door for even worse demagogues. At least Trump is entertaining.

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