Politics & Policy

Cruz, Rubio, and National Security

(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
A rejoinder to Ramesh Ponnuru.

Ramesh Ponnuru claims on Bloomberg View that Marco Rubio is trying to “turn Ted Cruz into Rand Paul,” and that attempts to label Cruz as weak on national security won’t work. I disagree. Ponnuru admits that his friendship with Senator Cruz could cloud his judgment, so I’ll state at the outset that I am biased too, inasmuch as I support Senator Rubio’s candidacy.

Setting aside for the moment whether this line of argument will resonate politically, there are at least three issues on which Senator Cruz clearly “stands with Rand.” Each of these raises serious questions about Senator Cruz’s true national-security views and his viability as a candidate for Commander-in-Chief.

The first instance was when Senator Cruz entered the Senate chamber to literally “stand with Rand.” Many will recall Senator Paul’s filibuster, in which he stirred up a frenzy over the possible targeting of U.S. citizens in the United States by U.S. military drones. In a bizarre attempt to suggest that a U.S. citizen sitting in a Starbucks café is at risk from the threat of U.S. Hellfire missiles, the senator from Kentucky held up Senate business until the attorney general certified that the president does not have the authority “to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.” What a revelation!

Instead of focusing the Senate on the threat posed by radical jihadists, Senator Cruz chose not only to stand with Rand, but to join him in attempting to stir up libertarian passions and create a false choice between liberty and security. This may have been good politics and a great way to increase his Twitter followers (Senator Cruz, in fact, spent part of his time on the Senate floor reading tweets praising Senator Paul), but it certainly wasn’t the conduct of a credible would-be Commander-in-Chief.

A second example where Senator Cruz aligned with Senator Paul is on the defense budget. At a time when sequestration’s $1 trillion of defense cuts hung over the military — a moment when even President Obama was unwilling to impose additional cuts on the military — Senator Cruz supported Senator Paul’s budget proposal intended to “reduce the size and scope of the military complex, including its global footprint.” In its tone and many of its policy components, this certainly appeared to be an isolationist budget.

Moreover, the proposal was anything but mainstream among Republicans. Paul Ryan’s budget, for example, provided $400 billion more for defense than the Paul/Cruz budget. While Senator Cruz earlier in the year supported Senator Rubio’s budget proposal to rebuild the military (at a time when ISIS and national security were top issues in the minds of voters), it’s significant that Cruz failed to stand with the military at a pivotal moment when our leaders were trying to prevent our national security from being put at risk. Again, even if one were to set aside the charge that his record reflects an isolationist philosophy, it’s clear that Senator Cruz was not on the side of policies tailored to rebuild American strength.

The last example is Senator Cruz’s voting record on the defense-policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act. Although this bill has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress every year for over 50 years, Senator Cruz has opposed its passage each of his three years in the Senate. This is legislation that authorizes pay increases for our troops, invests in their training and equipment, and cares for their families. The Heritage Foundation called last year’s NDAA “one of the biggest defense reform bills in decades.” But Ted Cruz voted no. And he has done so amid drastic defense cuts, when our military needed Congress’s support the most. As John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said of Cruz’s opposition to the NDAA, “I view that as a slap in the face to the men and women who are serving.”

Senator Cruz says he has voted against the NDAA because he sees a legal ambiguity that would allow a president to indefinitely detain American citizens and deprive them of their rights (as alleged in the Rand Paul filibuster). The Wall Street Journal labeled this “paranoia” and “woefully uninformed.” Once again, Senator Cruz’s record places him adrift from the national-security arm of the party.

If we are to judge candidates by their actions, it’s fair to question whether Senator Cruz is truly the hawk on national security he claims to be.

So if we are to judge candidates by their actions, it’s fair to question whether Senator Cruz is truly the hawk on national security he claims to be. In fact, neither in the Senate nor on the presidential-campaign trail has Senator Cruz put forward a serious program that would promote American strength and rebuild our military. Ramesh Ponnuru seems to believe that Cruz won’t let any daylight “come between him and conservative Republican primary voters” and that the effort to portray him as weak on national security is doomed to fail. That remains to be seen. But here’s what we do know: At the moment, no issue is more important to Republican primary voters than national security, and Marco Rubio is running his campaign on a national-security message. The latest poll out of New Hampshire suggests his message is resonating with voters.

Roger Zakheim is the director of the Reagan Institute in Washington, D.C., and a former general counsel on the House Armed Services Committee.


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