Is Ted Cruz For Real?

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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Almost two years ago, I crowned Jim Webb America’s most disappointing senator.

He certainly wasn’t the worst member of the Senate. But he had an opportunity to flip the boring left-right script, to revive the conservative wing of the Democratic Party, to rescue opposition to George W. Bush’s failed foreign policy from gooey-eyed leftists.

Webb failed on all counts, instead voting like a typical Harry Reid clone and snoozing his way through six years in Congress’ upper chamber.

Is Ted Cruz now hell-bent on succeeding Webb? Not just as someone who is the presidential candidate equivalent of fantasy football, but as America’s most disappointing senator?

Unlike Webb, Cruz has in many respects been the senator his pre-primary press clippings advertised. He’s been a boat-rocker rather than a wallflower, even if the results are sometimes debatable, and a senator with a consistently conservative voting record.

Cruz hasn’t been a No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, deficits don’t matter, bridge to nowhere kind of Republican.

George Will wrote in 2012 that for “conservatives seeking reinforcements for Washington’s too-limited number of limited-government constitutionalists, it can hardly get better than” Cruz. The Washington Post’s headline: “In Ted Cruz, a candidate as good as it gets.”

Then-candidate Cruz told me, “Texas is too Republican a state to settle for anything less than a conservative leader.”

Since Cruz arrived in Washington, there has been only one conservative concern, usually expressed behind closed doors in hushed tones. Is his top priority advancing conservatism or advancing Ted Cruz?

The question arises again, after he chose to use an event highlighting the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East to instead call attention to his pro-Israel bona fides — and in the process accuse many of those Christians of anti-Semitism.

Now, the Middle East is a deeply complicated place where good guys are sometimes hard to find. The same dictator who is protecting his region’s beleaguered Christian population from annihilation may also be gassing his own people, funding virulently anti-Israel terrorist organizations and otherwise behaving like a tyrannical cretin.

Just as Israel’s critics often preen about what Israel should (or more often should not) do to defend herself at a safe distance from Hamas’ rockets, it is easy to pontificate from the relative security of America’s shores about how a Christian population faced with extermination should feel about leaders preventing the murder of their families.

Cruz then moved from questioning these Christians’ motives to smearing the American columnists who criticized his remarks. “I will say it does seem interesting that the only time at least some of these writers seem to care about persecuted Christians is when it furthers an anti-Israel narrative for them,” the senator told the evangelical magazine World. “That starts to suggest that maybe their motivation is not exactly what they’re saying.”

But many of the writers who criticized Cruz are in fact pro-Israel. Some are even defenders of Cruz’s foreign policy. And “at least some of these writers” have cared about persecuted Christians entirely outside the context of Israel.

To his credit, Cruz has since apologized for these comments. He acknowledged he was wrong about these writers’ past work on Christian persecution and said, “It was not my intent to impugn anyone’s integrity, and I apologize to any columnists who took offense.”

All to the good. Perhaps Cruz’s conservative critics will end up having similar regrets. But was his initial impulse to attack those who substantially agree with him at all revealing?

When Cruz moves seamlessly from winning Ron Paul’s endorsement to earning flattering profiles of his foreign policy in the Weekly Standard, from speaking at Paul’s Libertarian Political Action Conference to hobnobbing at the Commentary dinner, it could mean one of two things.

The first is that Cruz is precisely the conservative who can unify the Republican Party. After all he has opposed more wars before they actually started than Chuck Hagel ever did, without anybody accusing him of being a Friend of Hamas.

The second possibility is less flattering. Consider Cruz’s crowd-pleasing bill to strip American ISIS members of their citizenship — a great idea, but his legislation is awfully short on due process for the accused. (See Cruz defend the bill, including its due process protections, here.) That seems like a major oversight given that Stephen Hayes, the author of the friendly Weekly Standard piece on Cruz’s foreign policy, has somehow wound up on the terrorist watch list.

As HealthCare.Gov abundantly demonstrated, the government sometimes gets stuff wrong.

But if the point is self-promotion rather than statesmanship, who cares? To make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs.

Questions that were once being raised behind closed doors are now being asked in public. Ted Cruz still has time to dispel them. If he doesn’t, it will be a major disappointment.

W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.