For 48 hours now, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been celebrated as a gutsy hero for walking out of a Christian gathering after some attendees booed his pro-Israel remarks. His comment, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you,” drew widespread attention and admiration.
But the episode was more complex, and only underscores how Cruz’s approach to key issues is cynically calculated – or, at best, tone-deaf. He represents an existential threat to the future of the Republican Party.
Members of the GOP who’ve been celebrating his rise because he stands up for conservative principles (or, let’s not kid ourselves, because he’s Hispanic) need to be very careful what they wish for. Should Cruz be nominated for president in 2016, he could devastate the party brand for decades.
The event where Cruz received his jeers was a gathering of mostly Middle Eastern Christians trying to build unity on a crucial issue – the persecution and murder of their co-religionists in the Levant. But the Senator’s remarks overwhelmingly focused on his devotion to the State of Israel. Extravagantly, he declared that ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas are all equivalent manifestations of the “cancer” of religious bigotry. “Murder is murder,” he said.
The rise and growth of ISIS is probably the greatest moral challenge of our generation, as I’ve written elsewhere. Its mode of operation displays a barbarism and brutality rare in world history, even among rogue nations and peoples. If every group is a cancer, then no group is a cancer – and right now Western civilization cannot afford to take its eye off the ball of stopping the worst of the worst.
But that doesn’t matter to the junior Senator from Texas, who was trying to appeal well beyond his immediate audience to the millions of Christian and Jewish voters who, like I do, strongly support the Jewish State. Few actions could be more glorious for an ambitious politician than storming off a stage in mock disgust as he champions a position that’s popular within his party.
The boos condemned the Senator hijacking the assembly’s agenda by calling attention to a pet issue of his. Politicians simply don’t harp on capital punishment at anti-Obamacare rallies. If I were there, I might have booed, too.
This is hardly the first example of Ted Cruz’s demagoguery. His 21-hour filibuster and other attempts to block resolution of the government shutdown and debt ceiling fight last year may have gained him sympathy on the far right, but they made Republicans look petulant and intransigent.
He has said, “I would do anything, and I will continue to do anything I can, to stop the train wreck that is Obamacare.” Sorry, but “by any means necessary” was popularized by radical leftist Malcolm X and, most recently, the affirmative action nuts (and government-labeled terrorists) of “BAMN.” Decode those initials yourself.
Conservatives, by contrast, are usually willing to work within the system. That doesn’t mean we’re quick to compromise our principles or positions. But Barry Goldwater’s comment that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” was about ideas, not methods.
Cruz doesn’t hesitate to call out fellow Republicans – even beloved ones – in pursuit of public attention. A GOP senator attacking Hillary Clinton? Dog-bites-man. But Cruz criticizing Bob Dole for not standing up for conservative principles? Now, that’s man-bites-dog.
The Republican Party stands at an exciting crossroads. We’re poised to gain several seats in the Senate just two months from now, and (unlike two years ago) we’re blessed with at least a half-dozen excellent potential candidates for the next presidential election. The country is exhausted by eight years of an inept president who did not match the high expectations of our Democratic friends. He didn’t even match our own low expectations.
Please, Senator Cruz. If you want, I can get a thousand Republicans to call you every morning to tell you how great you are. We can arrange for dozens of gatherings to boo you so you can storm off the stage. But don’t spoil our party’s promising moment in the sun.
David Benkof is a freelance writer living in St. Louis, and a frequent contributor to both the Daily Caller and the Times of Israel. Follow him on Facebook or E-mail him at [email protected].