Ever since the Ted Cruz vs. Rand Paul foreign policy schism officially became a “thing,” I’ve been trying to answer a simple question: What is Cruz’s foreign policy, anyway? (Watch the short compilation video above, and I think you may be surprised by the rhetoric.)
Since bounding onto the national political scene two short years ago, Cruz has seized the tea party zeitgeist, often stressing liberty over security, and leading a lot of folks to assume he’s a non-interventionist in the vein of Paul.
To some degree, Cruz has helped reinforce this false (or simplistic) assumption. For example, he sided with Rand Paul when Chris Christie expressed concern over Paul’s “esoteric” libertarian debates over foreign policy. He also joined with other Republicans in opposing military intervention in Syria, arguing Assad’s actions weren’t a direct threat to our national security.
But in recent months (in some cases, preceding Russia’s invasion of Crimea), Cruz has quietly compiled an impressive body of foreign policy speeches — speeches which may serve to help us better understand his worldview.
Anyone simply catching sound bites from the media would probably be surprised by how consistently Cruz has hearkened back to the moral clarity of the Reagan era (and again, this precedes Russia’s invasion).
To be sure, his positions are carefully crafted and somewhat nuanced. He wants America to avoid unnecessary wars, but also to demonstrate strong moral clarity. He doesn’t talk about nation building or adventurism, but seems ready to do whatever it takes to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
If it sounds like Cruz wants to have his cake and eat it to, it’s important to note that he is attempting to walk the same line as Ronald Reagan. Now, the notion of yet another Republican attempting to emulate the Gipper may sound hackneyed or facile, but it might also perfectly suit today’s challenges. “Reagan was rhetorically hawkish, as Jim Antle recently told me, but “in actions [he was] very prudent — very cautious about using military force.”
In this regard, Cruz’s positioning himself in the Reagan space is both obvious and brilliant. It allows conservatives to embrace patriotism and American exceptionalism — without advocating for a police-state or getting involved in unnecessary wars. Plus, in Reagan’s case it actually worked.
Another benefit: By co-opting Reagan’s mantle — and reminding folks that the president wasn’t seen as “sophisticated” or politically correct by the elite of his day — Cruz is also able to identify with the often derided tea party, while simultaneously using Reagan as a shield against similar attacks from today’s intelligentsia.
And because Cruz’s personal story (his father fled Batista’s Cuba) helps drive his policy, it also comes across as genuine (note: just because I think this is smart politics doesn’t mean I think it’s insincere.)
When Cruz says his foreign policy is somewhere between Rand Paul and John McCain — right in the Reagan sweet spot — it sure seems like convenient political posturing. And it is. But it also might be a wise foreign policy strategy.
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Rachel Stoltzfoos and Grae Stafford contributed to this post.
Matt Lewis’ wife previously consulted for Ted Cruz’s campaign.