Ted Cruz is not in a fighting mood. The Texas senator is sitting in a booth at the Capital Grille, an upscale restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, about halfway between the Capitol, where Cruz works, and the White House, where many suspect he’d like to end up. His jacket is off, his light blue tie is tucked behind his crisp white dress shirt as he casually picks at the salmon filet on the dinner plate in front of him and sips a glass of Pinot Noir.
Cruz has spent the past several days on the receiving end of a barrage of attacks. That’s not unusual. But what makes the latest fusillade notable is that it comes not from Democrats or the mainstream media or establishment Republicans but from his friend and frequent ally, Senator Rand Paul.
The junior senator from Kentucky is angry—very angry it seems—that Cruz has used Paul’s views on foreign policy as a way to frame his own. It’s hard to imagine Cruz could have been gentler in pointing out the differences. Here’s what Cruz said in an appearance on ABC’s This Week on March 9.
I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. But I don’t agree with him on foreign policy. I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military forces abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did. . . . The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.
Elsewhere, Cruz has suggested that Republican views on foreign policy run from Rand Paul to John McCain—noninterventionist to uber-interventionist—and that Cruz and Ronald Reagan occupy space somewhere in the middle.
Paul wasn’t happy. In a speech to the Heritage Foundation last year, Paul had framed Republican foreign policy thinking in similar terms—isolationists on one end, neoconservatives on the other, with Paul and Ronald Reagan in the middle as advocates of a “balanced” approach to the world.
So Paul, in a series of articles and television appearances, lashed out at Cruz, accusing the Texas senator of “mischaracterizing” Paul’s views on foreign policy, misappropriating Reagan’s national security legacy, and, less directly, “splintering” the Republican party.
Cruz, seeking to quell the controversy, called Paul “courageous,” in a statement acknowledging differences but emphasizing points of agreement and ending with a tribute to his friend. “Substantive policy disagreements are a positive aspect of the political discourse, but in the fight for liberty, I am proud to stand with Rand.”
When I asked Cruz about Paul’s criticism, he paused, then responded slowly and deliberately. “I love Rand Paul. He’s a close friend. He is a passionate voice for liberty. We have agreed on the overwhelming majority of issues, and I fully expect we will continue to do so. On foreign policy, we have not agreed. He’s certainly entitled to his views and I have no intention of characterizing his views. I will allow him to characterize his own views.”
There is a fair amount of irony here. Ted Cruz, a man not known primarily for the subtlety of his critiques, is trying desperately to avoid further antagonizing Paul. And Rand Paul, who counsels restraint on matters of foreign policy and national security, has become quite the hawk, at least towards Cruz.
I reminded Cruz that Paul has already accused him of mischaracterizing those views, an implied charge of dishonesty. “What I have stated is my views,” Cruz says;
I think it would be a wonderful outcome if every Republican across the spectrum followed the model of Ronald Reagan and spoke with a clarion clarity for freedom and against oppression—spoke out against Russian aggression before they march into Ukraine, spoke out against Venezuelan aggression as Maduro murders protesters fighting for freedom, spoke out and called for the freedom of Leopoldo López, the opposition leader wrongfully imprisoned because Maduro is afraid of the desire for freedom of his citizens, and stood resolutely for vigorous sanctions against Iran, for using every tool necessary, including if necessary overwhelming military force, to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons. That is a Reaganesque foreign policy, and nothing would make me happier than seeing every Republican in the United States Senate embrace that foreign policy.
Cruz’s critique is all substance. And he doesn’t mention Paul by name. But there’s no question that Paul is the target of his comments.