New York Times (Opinion)
By Emma Rolley
December 15, 2015
The most interesting fight brewing in the Republican primary isn’t between Donald J. Trump and the rest of the world, but between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, wunderkind vs. wunderkind. One is ruthless in his appeals to the Republican base, poised to ride its anger to victory, as Tea Party candidates did before him; the other is attractive to the establishment wing of the party, with the potential to draw in moderate voters, but who is sputtering in early primary states.
The dynamic we’re seeing, between Senator Cruz of Texas and Rubio of Florida, may ultimately decide which path the Republican Party chooses to go down in 2016. And, as hard as it may be to envision where Trumpmania is going to leave us, Mr. Cruz has jumped to the lead in a new Iowa poll, and has climbed to second place in a national poll ahead of Tuesday’s debate.
The two senators have a few basic things in common: They were born within six months of each other. They are both sons of Cuban immigrants. They both experienced a meteoric rise to national politics thanks, in part, to the Tea Party wave that crashed down on Washington in 2010, when Mr. Rubio was elected, and continued to support Mr. Cruz’s rise in 2012.
But over the past two months, they have tried to put as much space between their positions as possible — and engaged in some innovative name-calling, comparing each other to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and even Senator Chuck Schumer. (It’s not clear whether that particular insult, invoking the New York Democrat, resonates with the voters Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio are courting, but it has been thrown around by both campaigns. When asked about his Republican primary cameo, Mr. Schumer simply said: “I’m honored.”)
Recently, the two senators have started to distance themselves from each other on several key issues, especially national security and immigration. Kellyanne Conway, who leads Keep the Promise I, one of the super PACs supporting Mr. Cruz’s candidacy, happily took aim at Mr. Rubio’s record on immigration in an interview on the tensions between the two candidates. “Can you trust the person who essentially dropped his bags off in his new Senate office, crossed the hallway, and started doing deals with Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin, or can you trust the guy who hasn’t betrayed you?” she said. Mr. Rubio has leveled a similar attack against Mr. Cruz on national security, saying that the Texas senator was “part of that coalition that worked with the Democrats like Chuck Schumer and the A.C.L.U. to harm our intelligence programs.”
In a speech to the Heritage Foundation last week, Mr. Cruz outlined a foreign policy plan that both recognizes the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as an existential threat, but ignores the “occasional dime-store dictator” who does not pose a threat to national security.
With typical doomsday aplomb, Mr. Cruz said the United States was facing a moment “like Munich in 1938” and that the Arab Spring brought a “tsunami of chaos and unrest.”
He also criticized fellow Republicans who supported bulk data collection via the National Security Administration, thereby implicating fellow candidates Mr. Rubio and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. “More data from millions of law-abiding citizens is not always better data,” he said.
Joe Pounder, an adviser to Mr. Rubio’s campaign, quickly responded to the implied diss on Twitter. “Odd that in defense of his NSA position, @tedcruz bear hugs Obama’s top intelligence official,” he tweeted. “Obama-Cruz agree on NSA.”
You can expect this kind of sniping to extend into Tuesday night’s debate, with Mr. Cruz trying to paint Mr. Rubio as a pushover on immigration, while Mr. Rubio tries to paint Mr. Cruz as soft on national security.
On a recent installment of “Morning Joe,” the host, Joe Scarborough, asked Mr. Cruz if he thought Mr. Rubio was a “big-government Republican?”
“He wants as much power in Washington as possible, and he has agreed with John McCain and Lindsey Graham — and for that matter, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — that we should keep sticking our nose in foreign entanglements where the result of their policies has made America less safe,” Mr. Cruz replied.
While Mr. Rubio has not gone as far as his fellow senator Lindsey Graham in calling for 20,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, he has outlined a hawkish strategy in the region. In a recent Politico column, Mr. Rubio detailed a plan to bar Syrian refugees from entering the country, end budget cuts to the Department of Defense, build a “multinational coalition of countries” to defeat the Islamic State, and restore the “intelligence-gathering authorities” of the National Security Agency that the U.S.A. Freedom Act limited. He also went a step past Mr. Cruz by arguing that intervening in the Syrian civil war was necessary to the war on terror in the region.
“Cutting off oxygen to ISIL also requires defeating Assad in Syria,” he wrote, referring to an acronym for the Islamic State and the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. “Some of my Republican colleagues are also vying for the presidency, yet they have spent the last several years helping to gut our defense and eliminate key intelligence programs.”
Mr. Cruz has derided Mr. Rubio’s platform as “military adventurism,” and his allies have linked Mr. Rubio, negatively, to the Bush doctrine of foreign policy. The Texas senator also spent the last Republican debate leveling attacks against Mr. Rubio for the Florida senator’s support for the 2013 Gang of Eight immigration reform bill.
Mr. Rubio and his allies have sought to counter those blows by arguing that Mr. Cruz supported a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants with an amendment he introduced in 2013. But, with all due respect to the Rubio campaign, this is a bit of a stretch: Mr. Cruz deliberately introduced the amendment to foil the Gang of Eight bill, and Republican voters are unlikely to view Mr. Cruz as pro-amnesty anytime soon.
“That was a poison pill to both Rubio and the Democrats, and it exposed the bill for what it was, which was amnesty and a pathway to citizenship,” Rick Tyler, a spokesman for the Cruz campaign, said in an interview. “It’s an incredibly weak argument, but they seem to be persisting with it.”
Mr. Rubio is unlikely to win the immigration debate among conservatives, though: Mr. Cruz’s campaign has spent the past four months diligently suctioning itself to the xenophobic Mr. Trump and his legion of supporters. Mr. Cruz has refused to repudiate Mr. Trump in public for calling for a ban on Muslims entering this country — something that Mr. Rubio, Mitt Romney, former Vice President Dick Cheney, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Mr. Graham, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Governor Christie and the G.O.P. state party chairmen in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have all done.
Of Mr. Trump, Mr. Cruz has said, “I do not believe the world needs my voice added to that chorus of critics.”
Rick Wilson, a prominent Republican strategist, has written that Mr. Cruz “appears to be playing the role of political pilot fish to Trump’s Great White.” It’s a strategy that has paid off for him so far: In Iowa, for now, the pilot fish has overtaken Jaws.
In the third fund-raising quarter, the Cruz campaign raised more than twice as much cash as the Rubio campaign and enjoys the support of at least four separate super PACs.
There are plenty of Rubio surrogates, in addition to the candidate himself, who are willing to call out Mr. Cruz on what they see as his failure on national security policy. In June, Mr. Cruz was one of 23 Republican senators to vote for the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which placed restrictions on the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of metadata from phones.
In November, a nonprofit group called American Encore spent $200,000 on an ad buy in Iowa saying the bill Mr. Cruz supported was “crafted to hobble the gathering of intelligence.”
When asked about the ad, Mr. Cruz shot back, “Senator Rubio’s campaign has been desperate to change the topic from his longtime partnership with and collaboration with President Obama and Chuck Schumer in pushing a massive amnesty bill.”
Sean Noble, the president of American Encore, supports Mr. Rubio for president, though he says his group has not endorsed a presidential candidate yet. He faulted Mr. Cruz for promoting what he sees as a false notion of privacy over national security.
“The Cruz campaign and their allies are trying to change the subject because he sided with liberal Democrats,” Mr. Noble said. “There is no privacy. Anyone on Facebook understands that everything is an open book, so why would we try to hobble intelligence against those who try to do us harm?”
Funny he should mention Facebook. The Guardian recently reported that Mr. Cruz’s campaign hired a firm that scours American Facebook users’ data to create “psychographic profiles” and help campaigns target potential supporters online. The company, Cambridge Analytica, has come under scrutiny for accessing Facebook data without users’ permission in some cases. It seems a surprising lack of concern on privacy for a candidate like Mr. Cruz.
The powers that be in the Republican Party will ultimately guide their party to a nominee, and many hope they will do everything in their power to make sure that person is not named Trump. The choice the party makes — between the ideologically pure conservative who does what he needs to do to win and the candidate who seems to empathize with the new voters the party needs to attract to avoid becoming obsolete — could clinch its fate for years to come.
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