Opinion writer
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) gestures during a break in the Republican presidential debate on Tuesday in Las Vegas. (Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) outdid himself last night in his courting of the Trumpkin base. In doing so, he sank further into the far-right brew of isolationism and xenophobia.

At one point in the debate, Cruz proclaimed: “Wolf, I believe in an America-first foreign policy, that far too often President Obama and Hillary Clinton — and, unfortunately, more than a few Republicans — have gotten distracted from the central focus of keeping this country safe.” Cruz is an Ivy League-educated man and knows full well the history of the isolationist “America First” policy:

The time has come when those of us who believe in an independent American destiny must band together, and organize for strength. We have been led toward war by a minority of our people. This minority has power. It has influence. It has a loud voice. But it does not represent the American people. During the last several years, I have travelled over this country, from one end to the other. I have talked to many hundreds of men and women, and I have had letters from tens of thousands more, who feel the same way as you and I. Most of these people have no influence or power. Most of them have no means of expressing their convictions, except by their vote which has always been against this war. They are the citizens who have had to work too hard at their daily jobs to organize political meetings. Hitherto, they have relied upon their vote to express their feelings; but now they find that it is hardly remembered except in the oratory of a political campaign. These people–the majority of hard-working American citizens are with us. They are the true strength of our country. And they are beginning to realize, as you and I, that there are times when we must sacrifice our normal interests in life in order to insure the safety and the welfare of our nation.

That was Charles Lindbergh inveighing against “interventionists” and arguing against the U.S. participation in World War II. Cruz has taken to using “neo-con,” but his appeal to the masses and ridicule of U.S. opposition to dictators is eerily familiar. “Good for Ted Cruz for being honest. He doesn’t want to be anywhere in the world, doesn’t want America to lead, and harkening back to the likes of Pat Buchanan and Charles Lindbergh is truth in advertising for him,” says the  American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka.

Cruz did not stop there. In emulation of Trump, he — the great defender of the Constitution and limited government — now favors mass deportation. Anti-immigrant hawks Rep. Steve King (R-Iowas) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who never tire of citing anti-immigration extremist groups, are now Cruz’s models. (So much for vastly expanding H-1B visas.) “Do you know how many aliens Bill Clinton deported? 12 million. Do you know how many illegal aliens George W. Bush deported? 10 million,” he declared. “We can enforce the laws and if we secure the border, that solves the problem. And as president, I will solve this problem and secure the border.” Someone should ask what that is going to cost and whether, like Trump, he’s going to kick out the American-born children of illegal aliens who have been here for decades.

Ironically, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) sinks from view, his isolationist policies rejected soundly, Cruz is taking them up. He doubles down on his vote to restrict the National Security Agency metadata-gathering program, although he let slip that “it ended the federal government’s bulk collection of phone metadata.” (His assertion that it actually expanded surveillance is false, as The Post’s Fact Checker explains.) And he — like Paul — is insistent that American jihadists who have taken up arms against the United States be treated like domestic criminals. (“I would oppose the federal government having the authority to detain U.S. citizens permanently with no due process.”) In fact, he’s so addicted to that position that he opposed funding the Defense Department over it — during a war.

Cruz covers his tracks with a coat of bombastic language, akin to Trump. He’s going to destroy, obliterate, crush the Islamic State. But he is trapped again and again by his own incoherence. He’s not going to carpet-bomb cities, he insists, just the Islamic State. But surely he knows the jihadists have grabbed cities as well. He bizarrely claims we, not the people of Egypt and its military, toppled the Egyptian government. (“Move over to Egypt. Once again, the Obama administration, encouraged by Republicans, toppled Mubarak who had been a reliable ally of the United States, of Israel, and in its place, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood came in, a terrorist organization.”) It’s only in a made-up world that his vision can make sense.

We have no idea whether Cruz means what he says. Maybe he knows better. Perhaps he does, after all, understand that Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad, who is fueling the Islamic State, must go. Maybe in office he would not perpetuate the Obama administration’s affection for applying the criminal justice model inappropriately to wartime. But in seeking to both curry favor with the xenophobic and isolationist far right and to posture as a tough-on-jihadists candidate, he renders himself incoherent. He is forced to rewrite history to fit his phony narrative. Whoever wins the side of the “somewhat conservative” and moderate majority of the GOP (Marco Rubio? Chris Christie?) should make quick work of him.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal editorial board observes, “Our guess is that Mr. Cruz realizes that the vote he cast to appeal to Mr. Paul’s supporters has now become politically treacherous. So he is trying to limit the damage by making his previous calculation sound like hawkish principle. This slipperiness has become part of his political method, and it is a character issue for a potential Commander in Chief as much as it is a substantive one.” I won’t try to guess at Cruz’s motive, but he is not leveling with voters.