5 times that Ted Cruz swears he didn’t change his mind
Cruz The ‘Consistent Conservative’ Is Not So Consistent.
Sen. Virtually every Democrat I talk to in Washington is equal parts delighted and baffled that Republican Party stakeholders have as of yet done nothing to seriously try to unify the party establishment behind Marco Rubio.Now that Ted Cruz has moved into second place in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, the coverage he gets in the news media is going to change, not just in its volume but also in its content.This week has seen a plethora of takes (Yglesias/Klein/Beutler/Chait/Newell) from left-of-center analysts suggesting that fear of Donald Trump may drive the GOP establishment into the arms of Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) defended his role in the 2013 immigration battles Thursday, telling reporters at a rally here that the Republican “establishment” was misleading people about why he introduced an amendment to penalize workers in the United States illegally. “Let me use a Las Vegas analogy, from poker,” said Cruz. “It’s called ‘calling their bluff.’ Listen, the Democrats and the establishment Republicans who supported the Gang of Eight — they claimed they cared about the people who were here illegally.
Up until now the media have treated Cruz as an interesting character — a player in Washington shutdown battles, a representative of Tea Party anger at the Republican leadership in Congress, an ambitious young politician who has risen quickly despite the fact that everyone thinks he’s an obnoxious jerk. But thanks to attacks in Paris and then San Bernardino, the U.S. immigration conversation has shifted from fears over jobs to fears over personal safety. So when Cruz gets into an argument with Marco Rubio about who hates amnesty more, as happened at Tuesday night’s debate, journalists investigate Cruz’s history on the issue, publish explorations of it, and give Cruz tough questions. Cruz entered the Senate and quickly received a reputation for as the hard-line Texan loathed by members of his own party over his steadfast refusal to relent on his positions. “The single biggest difference between me and the very fine men and woman running for president: When I say I’m going to do something, I will do exactly what I say I’m going to do,” Cruz says on cue at nearly every one of his campaign stops in Iowa.
But over the last two weeks, Cruz’s reframing, or even changing, his positions on several issues, including U.S. foreign policy, immigration and government surveillance, opened up questions of political posturing that others, primarily Sen. Perhaps the answer lurks in the frequency with which Rubio is described as “a man in a hurry” by everyone from the Washington Post to the New York Times to CNN to CNBC to the Los Angeles Times and CBS.
While most of the attention this week has been trying to determine where Cruz really stands on immigration, Cruz has altered his position on issues about both national security and domestic economic policy. Going all in on anti-Cruz attacks simply risks further bolstering the current frontrunner — Donald Trump, a man whose nomination represents an absolute worst-case scenario for the establishment. For instance, he has said multiple times that we ought to “carpet-bomb ISIS.” Now that he is a contender, however, commentators feel free to enquire about what exactly he means, and if he knows what he’s talking about.
On Oct. 31, Cruz also pushed back on the idea of using ground troops to defeat ISIS. “What that would take, I believe, is not a few more American boots on the ground,” Cruz said at the time. During the debate, Rubio attempted to parry Cruz’s attacks on this point by noting that during the Senate process Cruz had supported an amendment that would have granted a form of legal resident status — though not a path to citizenship — to unauthorized migrants.
If you stop looking at him through liberal-tinted lenses, you see a politician whose brief but tumultuous record in national politics is marked by fairly erratic behavior and a rather Cruz-like tendency to put personal ambitions ahead of the good of the party. But last week in Washington, D.C., Cruz said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation that his strategy includes “using whatever ground troops are necessary.” The Texas senator has also reframed his vote for the USA Freedom Act, an updated version of the U.S.A. Cruz now maintains that this was a false flag operation designed to undermine the coalition for the bill by driving a wedge between moderate reformers and the immigrant rights activist community. If Cruz were a trailing candidate, no one would bother explaining the meaning of a term he had used and seeking out experts to comment on its feasibility.
That section allows the president (with the input of the secretary of state and the Department of Homeland Security) to designate entire groups of people who could be eligible to come to the U.S. as refugees. But Wednesday night on Fox News, Brett Baier delivered footage of Cruz speaking about his amendment on the Judiciary Committee that seems to support Rubio’s interpretation. But when you examine his career, it’s not hard to see why many Republicans may prefer for a while to hold out hope that someone like Chris Christie or even the hapless Jeb Bush could manage to displace Rubio as the Official Alternative to the Trump/Cruz axis.
But unless he falls in the polls quickly — and given the care with which he has constructed his campaign, raising lots of money and assiduously courting the evangelicals who form his base, that isn’t too likely — there’s more to come. Cruz specifically insists that he does not want immigration reform to fail, and he says that he wants to bring immigrants “out of the shadows” — a talking point that is closely associated with the pro-reform movement. His ideas about everything from health care to taxes to energy will get more and more scrutiny, so voters will have at least some idea of what sort of president he could be. The campaign also attempted to muddy Cruz’s position on the Renewable Fuel Standard, another key issue for Iowa farmers, by softening his opposition to the government subsidy.
Cal Jillson, a longtime political analyst at Southern Methodist University in Texas, has watched Cruz’s climb in politics and notes the ease in which Cruz can shift, crediting his days as a lawyer and early years as a Princeton debate team champion. “He can say whatever he chooses to say, even when changing his views, without blinking an eye or looking like he’s under pressure or trying to remember what his new position is,” Jillson said. “With less facile politicians, you can see the gears turning in their head when they used to believe one thing and want to say another.” And really, Cruz’s character was the point of probing all this, both in the debate and the back-and-forth that has gone on since then. He’s as smooth a talker as there is in the GOP field (all that college debating no doubt helped), and he has yet to encounter a question he couldn’t give a coherent answer to. Long an advocate for the deal, Cruz veered to the other side, voted against authorizing the Obama administration to negotiate its terms and derisively called it “Obamatrade” recently in Iowa. Unlike some of his opponents, like Ben Carson or Donald Trump, he has enough familiarity with policy issues to talk about most of them in a way that sounds at least reasonably informed. The U.S. might, for example, be particularly willing to accept refugees fleeing a major international opponent. “It is not accurate to describe [this section] as giving the president ‘blanket authority,’ as the section spells out specific criteria that people must meet to be designated as refugees under the section,” wrote Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the immigration-policy program at the Migration Policy Institute, in an email to NPR.
I found the clip via the Twitter feed of National Review executive editor Reihan Salam, for example, who particularly highlighted a moment during the exchange when Baier questions Cruz’s basic honesty. This really is a guy who will say whatever needs to be said at any moment to further his political prospects. (It’s the same on the NSA metadata program: Then, he bragged he was curtailing the government’s power and now, he falsely claims his vote was to expand our surveillance abilities.) This has been the dig all along against Cruz, namely that excessive ambition mixed with insincerity stands out, even in the U.S. John McCain, a longtime proponent of immigration reform, spoke angrily to the press about the idea that Cruz’s current immigration-skeptical rhetoric is at odds with past support for expanding the H-1B visa program. But to a pure party operative, this was two easy-win statewide elections that Rubio made much more difficult purely in order to fuel his own rise to power.
It’s one thing to give a 60-second explanation of where he stands on something in a debate, but under repeated, probing questioning, Cruz could fare far worse. And in the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released last weekend, Cruz received the highest marks — 28 percent — among Iowa Republicans asked which candidate “cares the most about people like you.” It’s easier to come in as a tourist, a student, a businessman.” It’s also possible that Cruz was referring to another segment of the bill, Section 3405, which allows stateless people to get legal status.
Cruz argued that the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, the Obama administration’s intervention in Libya, and Obama’s gentler diplomatic push against Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak all reflected a mistaken injection of naive idealism into a rough corner of the world. He can rationalize his contradictions all he likes, playing the word games to rival Bill Clinton, but he cannot avoid the appearance is that of a slippery pol who thinks he is smarter than the rest of us.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka delivered a pointed smackdown of this idea that was rapidly echoed by AEI colleagues who don’t normally work on national security issues. And no wonder the Rubio team has been licking its lips, waiting to pounce with piles of research demonstrating Cruz’s habitual disingenuousness. (“Cruz’s response [to Rubio] highlights his greatest weakness: he’s just too slick and self-aggrandizing.”) Senator Cruz, for reasons of political expediency, now opposes something that two years ago he supported. Rubio repaid the favor earlier this year by refusing to stand aside in favor of the more senior Floridian, seriously wounding his former patron’s campaign. Political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck have described the cycle most presidential candidates go through as “discovery, scrutiny, and decline.” Voters become interested in the candidate, then the press explores him in depth, which reveals things both positive and negative.
Cruz’s view is arguably a more authentic interpretation of the Ronald Reagan approach to foreign policy (you can think of it as a 21st-century update of Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Democracies and Double Standards”), but Rubio’s is the current accepted canon. What makes things a good deal worse for the junior senator from Texas is that he’s dissembling about his record — and then he has the gall to (in the context of a discussion about surveillance) upbraid Rubio, saying “Marco knows what he’s saying isn’t true.” In psychology, what Senator Cruz is engaging in is known as projection — and combining it with dishonesty is a rather troubling mix, particularly for someone who wants to be president. . . .
Because the man they want may, in the end, do considerable damage to the principles and virtues they claim to cherish, like the traditional belief that truth exists independent of what we hope for and the political candidates we are drawn to. The campaign bumper sticker could read, “Cruz, the postmodern conservative!” At any rate, the point has been made: Cruz is so effective at misleading voters one cannot tell when, if ever, he is being sincere.
And trying to help Rubio by suggesting that Cruz is weak on immigration could simply end up boosting the notion that Trump is the only viable choice for anti-immigration voters — which could lead to the disaster scenario of Trump as the nominee. The working assumption of conservative elites seems to be that Trump will inevitably fade, but at this point that doesn’t amount to much more than wishful thinking.
One of the occupational hazards of political life in the modern era of polarized parties is that all politicians’ fortunes are to a large extent hostage to the decisions of a same-party president. That means rational officeholders have good reason to wish the nomination of a person whom they regard as a reliable partisan, someone who’s unlikely to throw his down-ballot colleagues under the bus for personal gain.
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