Ted Cruz needs better answers

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TedOut on the Sunday shows Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) — I know this is a shock — said he is “seriously” considering a presidential run. Before he does that, he should seriously reconsider some answers that with the slightest bit of analysis don’t hold up. In a debate or challenging interview he will have to come up with far more persuasive answers than those he’s now flinging around.

First, Cruz is blaming GOP leadership for the cromnibus, saying the GOP would have had more leverage last year on defunding the president’s executive order. This is nonsense. Last year the GOP had even fewer members. It was entirely logical to wait until nine new GOP members could boost the votes and then try to pick off a few Democrats. “The idea that we had more leverage with a Democrat-controlled Senate is just plain stupid.  The only result would have been a shutdown of the entire government right before Christmas, scoffed a senior GOP aide. “Time is running out on DHS funding.  We’re still waiting to hear what Senator Cruz’ plan is win this fight in the Senate.” As the Wall Street editorial board puts it:

Restrictionists like Sens. Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions are offering their familiar advice to fight harder and hold firm against “executive amnesty,” but as usual their strategy for victory is nowhere to be found. So Republicans are now heading toward the same cul de sac that they did on the ObamaCare government shutdown.

If Homeland Security funding lapses on Feb. 27, the agency will be pushed into a partial shutdown even as the terrorist threat is at the forefront of public attention with the Charlie Hebdo and Islamic State murders. Imagine if the Transportation Security Administration, a unit of DHS, fails to intercept an Islamic State agent en route to Detroit.

So Republicans are facing what is likely to be another embarrassing political retreat and more intra-party recriminations. The GOP’s restrictionist wing will blame the leadership for a failure they share responsibility for, and the rest of America will wonder anew about the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

The restrictionist caucus can protest all it wants, but it can’t change 54 Senate votes into 60 without persuading some Democrats.

But Cruz would rather return to his old, tired game. Would he have shut down the government then? If not, where would the votes have come from? This is not a senator interested in governance; rather it is someone starved for the limelight.

Second, when asked about former Texas governor Rick Perry’s remarks that the voters are looking for someone who is not an untested freshman senator like President Obama was, Cruz — interestingly — took this as a personal affront (although not mentioned by name) and accused Perry of “throwing rocks.” He didn’t distinguish his own career by citing prior experience as Texas solicitor general or his work in the George W. Bush administration (the administration he now trashes, but was happy at the time to work for in several positions.) At any rate, the challenge is real: What executive experience does he have, and what ability has he shown to bring people together to solve problems? Right now he is in low single digits in most polls, so apparently the voters would answer that question, “None.”

And most disturbing, when asked about the necessity of putting more troops on the ground to fight the Islamic State as the military and outside experts have all recommended, he deflects, saying we should do a better job of arming the Kurds. Now to his credit, he did not rule out using additional U.S. forces, but his refusal to lead on this — by coming right out and  saying what Obama’s own advisers told him — is disappointing. It is not honest to say the Kurds alone can win this fight. Why certainly we should arm the Kurds, but no military figure nor credible outside expert has said that arming the Kurds is a substitute for injecting sufficient troops for forward spotting, training and intelligence work. (Several pointed out that the Kurds have their own issues with Iraq and are not going to recapture places like Anbar province.) In this regard, Cruz doesn’t put himself in much of a position to question the Obama-Clinton-Kerry school of warfare. In place of a coherent military strategy they would dawdle, risking that no harm comes to America, while pretending we can win without additional U.S. troops. Cruz might want to get some advice from a serious and intellectually sound ex-military man, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who understands that pretending additional U.S. troops are not necessary is dangerous self-delusion.

Cruz is, by all accounts, a very smart man who can be eloquent and amusing. But he has frittered those skills away in search of immediate adulation from right-wing media and the remnants of the tea party. It is not an audience that will make him president.

As a presidential candidate he would have obvious, enormous deficits. Cruz has much less experience in lawmaking than even Obama (who at least could claim three terms as a state senator). Cruz has been in the U.S. Senate a little more than two years, less elective experience even than Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). His “achievements” are not great legislative efforts but a series of confrontational vignettes (e.g. Cruz fighting with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Cruz fighting with the GOP leadership). At some point, if he runs he’s going to have to convince a whole lot of people he has the experience and temperament to be president — indeed, that he is better than a whole long list of capable Republicans who have accomplished something in public life. It will be interesting to see how many voters buy that.

Perhaps like much of what he does, a presidential race for Cruz is simply one more self-aggrandizing stunt to gain applause from a sliver of the party. It’s a shame. He could have been a force to be reckoned with, but blind ambition and arrogance have been his Achilles’ heel from day one.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.

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