Yesterday Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) got into plenty of hot water for grandstanding and hypocrisy on national security. After being taken to the woodshed for bashing unnamed “neo-cons” and for his stance on National Security Agency surveillance, the junior senator woke up to a thrashing from the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which drubbed his half-baked plan for fighting the Islamic State and his posturing on metadata-gathering:
It sounds close to the lead-from-behind approach adopted by the Obama Administration for Libya: air strikes but no troops, a de facto alliance with moderate local forces to do the ground fighting, and no follow-up. The approach at least succeeded in ending the Gadhafi regime, but it failed as a policy because the U.S. and NATO abandonment of Libya after Gadhafi’s fall allowed jihadist groups to flourish as the country descended into chaos. If anyone hasn’t learned the lessons of Libya, it’s Mr. Cruz.
The Texan’s defensiveness might have something to do with his opposition to the National Security Agency’s bulk telephony metadata collection programs, which looks dangerous as policy and politics after the terror attacks in Paris. Mr. Cruz was a cosponsor of the legislation last summer that killed the program over Mr. Rubio’s opposition, and one of Mr. Cruz’s campaign lines is to encourage audiences to turn on their cell phones so President Obama can listen in.
This is an especially demagogic line that misrepresents what the NSA was doing—tracing suspicious patterns of who’s calling whom but not listening to random phone calls. Mr. Cruz is spreading the same myths that Edward Snowden does.
That was the run-up to his appearance today at the Republican Jewish Coalition presidential forum. He initially was warmly greeted. Starting with a moment of silence, Cruz, however, began in a relatively subdued manner. The audience politely applauded periodically but was generally subdued. His tone was sober, and he mainly stuck to platitudes, regurgitating applause lines — “we are at a time of war” and “we win [against terrorists]; they lose” — the group has heard many times.
Cruz’s comments were generally directed at the Obama administration. With his telltale preacher-style delivery, his invocation to “speak the truth” avoided details. Sticking to criticism of President Obama, he gave the crowd relatively stale material that did not particularly excite the attendees.
He studiously avoided speaking about the NSA and spoke only in passing about Syria, for which he has been roundly criticized by rivals. His “accomplishments” — setting up a panel discussion, going to the Senate floor, setting a bounty on the killers of three Israeli teens, writing to the European Union — highlight the difficulty senators have in demonstrating readiness as commander in chief. His comments on Libya and Egypt opposing U.S. intervention were met with stony silence.
“Speak the truth,” “stand by our allies” and “defeat our enemies” made up an almost childlike formula. That is about the lowest common denominator one can find at an event like this. For a party focused on foreign policy and looking for a standout commander in chief, Cruz finds himself in the position of blending into the background.
Using up most of the time with remarks, he left only a brief time for questions. Asked about his comparison to the current president, who was also a first-term senator, Cruz stole a Marco Rubio line — Obama is a bad president not because he was a first-term senator but because he is an “unmitigated socialist” who refuses to defend the United States. Castigating Republicans who run to the middle — a direct criticism of three of the RJC’s favorites (Bob Dole, Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain — did not elicit a positive response; in fact, it was met with almost near silence. (Cruz restates the much-discredited theory that there are “missing” white conservative voters who he can turn out.) Denouncing Hillary Clinton for amnesty just does not work with a crowd in which many are descended from immigrants.
This was not Cruz’s crowd. The problem for him is that a great number of middle-of-the-road Republicans are just like them.