In the January 14th debate, Marco Rubio accused Ted Cruz of changing his position on several issues. For such a recognized crafty debater, his response was a little less than stellar. Claiming that Rubio made eleven accusations “half of which were wrong” insinuates half were correct. This actually started in the previous debate when the “amnesty flip flop” charge occurred. The Cruz explanation in the wake of that dust up was that his amendment to the Gang of Eight immigration reform package was designed as a “poison pill” to expose and kill the entire bill. However, there are the obvious optics and perceptions involved and they point to a pattern. To wit:
The “poison pill”
Most voters do not know about the nuances of amendments to bills, let alone care about the motivations behind them. His explanation now does not square with some statements regarding “legalization” prior to the Gang of Eight proposal. But, we have to take Cruz at his word because two other Senators- Lee and Sessions- back up his rendition of events, so he gets a pass here. When Bill Clinton said “I did not have sex with that woman,” maybe technically he did not; he was splitting legal hairs. Cruz’ “I meant it as a poison pill” is splitting political procedural hairs.
Switched vote on crop insurance
As Rubio stated, he originally voted “no” and then changed his mind. This change in vote three minutes later was covered by C-Span. Cruz’ explanation is that he originally thought he was voting on a cloture motion. The vote in question involved restoring $3 billion in crop insurance cuts previously agreed to in October. Hence, a “no” vote would coincide with fiscally conservative adherents, of which he is one. By changing his vote, he agreed to reinstate the cuts which would not be fiscally conservative. Either way, his explanation makes no sense. He changed his vote after talking to Sen Pat Roberts who suggested the “no” vote would not play in Iowa. Others close to the scene confirmed this scenario of events. This is an obvious flip-flop born of political expediency.
The Eric Snowden comments
After reading his statements and reading them again regarding Eric Snowden, Cruz could conceivably get a pass here. He did at one point say that Snowden did America a favor by revealing the NSA program. BUT, he also stated that if Snowden broke any laws (which he obviously did) he should be prosecuted. Cruz was an state attorney general and Harvard law graduate and should know that Snowden broke the law. This equivocation is political calculation and well-chosen words.
Cruz has taken, as late as October 2015, an isolationist view towards Syria. He, like others, believes that dealing with ISIS can be divorced from dealing with Syria which is strange given the fact ISIS controls a large chunk of Syrian real estate. Admittedly, ISIS is the bigger threat right now since they can export their terrorism. It is better to take care of them there rather than here. But assuming that it can be done, there is nothing to stop the next ISIS if the Syrian civil war is not addressed. Further, Syria is a proxy state of Iran and Cruz’ rhetoric is clearly anti-Iranian…except when it comes to Syria. This is, again, political hair splitting.
Syrian refugees and H1-B Visas
Syrian refugees and H1-B visas. In February 2014, Cruz stated, by quoting the Statue of Liberty, that we should accept Syrian refugees and that it could be done without jeopardizing national security. In November 2015, his tune has completely changed to point of sponsoring a bill blocking Syrian refugees from entering the country. He reasons that the situation has changed in light of terrorist attacks in Europe. Further, he blames the changed conditions on malfeasance or ineptitude on the part of the Obama administration regarding the vetting process. But, that same process was in effect in February 2014 when he made the original comment about accepting refugees. The only thing that really changed was Trump’s rise in the polls over this issue.
On the H1-B visa issue, Cruz did, in fact, propose increasing the number issued by some 400-500% at one time. Today, he wants them suspended. We should give Cruz some slack here as candidates should have some leeway in the interest of “evolution on the issues.” In his case, the about-face came after receiving criticism from some immigration groups on the Right.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Obergfell gay marriage decision, Cruz said he would put this issue front and center. During a private fundraiser (held by two gay New York developers) he seemed to say something else, although he did say that he was against gay marriage. For this, we should give him a pass since his original statement in June 2015 was in the heat of the moment after the decision was announced AND it was in the context of discussing activist judges.
Free trade agreement
This one seems complicated, but isn’t really. In April 2015, along with Paul Ryan, Cruz penned an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal in favor of the TPP fast track authority. He was one of 62 Senators who voted for it. Two months later when free trade became a political hot potato, Cruz voted against the Trade Promotion Authority bill (which would have implemented fast track) using two excuses for his change of mind. The first included alleged language which re-authorized the Import-Export Bank, while the second involved another agreement that he alleged would affect immigration law.
With respect to the Import-Export Bank, it was actually an amendment offered by Patty Murray. That amendment had been rejected with the understanding that it would be introduced as separate legislation. Surely, Cruz knew this at the time. Cruz claims the Trade in Services Agreement, a part of the TPP, would affect immigration law and that is why he voted against the TPA. Further, he asserted that knowledge of this agreement came about as a result of WikiLeaks.
The Trade in Services Agreement was well-known back in April when Cruz originally endorsed the whole deal and WikiLeaks had little to do with Cruz’ change of heart. Second, as experts said then and as they say now, this agreement would have minimal effect on immigration laws. It would affect S visas which deals with company transfers, and a slight increase in H1-B visas, something Cruz previously endorsed. What changed was not an epiphany, but the political dialogue over this entire agreement. Instead, the Trade in Services Agreement and the Import-Export Bank became a convenient excuse for Cruz to take advantage of the changing political winds.
Opposition to the TSA
In 2012 when running for the Senate, Cruz promised to abolish the TSA. Now as a presidential candidate, the TSA is not to be found among his more than 30 agencies and programs slated to be terminated on his website. Is this an oversight? Or does Cruz now support the TSA, albeit with some reforms?
Cruz is cagey in his views here also. In 2011, he said: “As much as someone may dislike the policy of birthright citizenship, its in the Constitution…I think it’s a mistake for conservatives to be focusing on trying to fight what the Constitution says on birthright citizenship.” In 2015, Cruz now says: “We should end granting automatic birthright citizenship to the children of those who are here illegally.” [Emphasis mine] By dropping those six words into the sentence, the position is magically changed. A constitutional provision becomes qualified. Since when does a strict constitutionalist Senator “qualify” something that is “in the Constitution?”
The Federal Reserve
Finally, while Rubio comes under attack for missing Senate votes when his presence would make absolutely no difference in the outcome, Cruz missed a recent cloture vote on a bill he co-sponsored that would require an audit of the Federal Reserve. That vote failed 53-44. While it is true that Cruz’ vote would not have made a difference, it was a hell of a lot closer than any vote Rubio missed. Others criticized Rubio for missing a vote on the omnibus spending bill saying he should have voted to be on the record, yet here was a bill Cruz co-sponsored and he missed the vote and we hear nothing but the chirping of crickets.
Cruz campaigns on the point that he is the most consistently conservative candidate in the race. But, he appears to be the most politically-calculating conservative candidate in the race. Be it nuanced renditions of events or carefully placed words, there is a discernible pattern here that leads one to question his consistency. In effect, he is a slick and savvy politician who plays the same game others play in explaining the discrepancy between statements and votes, or between views previously expressed and views currently expressed.
Is there anything inherently wrong with this? It is not necessarily “wrong;” people are allowed to change their views based on changing circumstances or increased knowledge. That applies to everyone. But, it is a tad hypocritical to criticize others when you are guilty of the same thing and cover it in “legalese” and procedural shenanigans.
One caveat before concluding: If Cruz were to be the eventual GOP nominee, I would proudly vote for him. He was and remains among my top three choices from the beginning. This writer just wishes he would stop trying to wriggle his way out of past actions and statements through nuance and legal hair-splitting that falls on deaf ears except those of his supporters.