Nice catch by Michael Warren, spotting a very low-key quasi-reversal by Cruz on a natsec vulnerability. I say “quasi-reversal” because Cruz hedged on Snowden even when the first leaks began back in the summer of 2013. He never celebrated him — but he reserved the right to do so as more information came out. Nearly three years later, with Rubio hammering him over his supposed weakness in voting to replace the Patriot Act with the USA Freedom Act, Cruz is finally prepared to render his verdict: Thumbs down.

Weird place to do it, though — in a statement released to the NYT and buried deep within an otherwise prosaic “fact check” column. I wonder why Ted Cruz, who’s working overtime to woo Rand Paul’s libertarian base, wouldn’t want to make a big show of the fact that he now thinks Edward Snowden is a capital-T Traitor.

“If it is the case that the federal government is seizing millions of personal records about law-abiding citizens, and if it is the case that there are minimal restrictions on accessing or reviewing those records, then I think Mr. Snowden has done a considerable public service by bringing it to light,” Mr. Cruz said [in 2013] at an event hosted by TheBlaze, according to the website​​.

But that was not all Mr. Cruz said on the subject, as Mr. Rubio’s selective quotation might suggest. He also said this: “If Mr. Snowden has violated the laws of this country, there are consequences to violating laws and that is something he has publicly stated he understands and I think the law needs to be enforced.”

Since those quotes are from more than two years ago, we asked Mr. Cruz’s campaign how he now assessed Mr. Snowden. In a statement, Mr. Cruz took a very different tone, saying​,​ “​It is now clear that Snowden is a traitor, and he should be tried for treason.”

He pointed to his remark in 2013 that Mr. Snowden should be prosecuted if he broke any laws. “Today, we know that Snowden violated federal law, that his actions materially aided terrorists and enemies of the United States, and that he subsequently fled to China and Russia,” he said. “Under the Constitution, giving aid to our enemies is treason.”

Warren’s been asking Team Cruz for weeks for a comment about Snowden in reply to Rubio’s attacks, only to be met with stony silence. Finally Cruz spoke up. Any theories why? This data set from yesterday’s Selzer poll of Iowa may provide a clue. Which doesn’t belong and why?

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On only two questions does Cruz see ominously high “unattractive” numbers. One is foreign-policy experience, but that’s probably baked in the cake for a freshman senator. The other is … voting to cut the military. That’s precisely the point of Rubio’s attack, to paint Cruz as comprehensively weak on national security, from his willingness to cut defense spending to his supposed softness on domestic surveillance. Cruz’s “treason” line on Snowden is meant to protect his right flank from Rubio. What happens when Cruz-supporting libertarians find out?

Actually, he’s been tossing some rhetorical candy at them lately too. Here’s a notable passage from his interview with U.S. News and World Report:

In Libya, Marco Rubio’s policy is indistinguishable from Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s. And indeed in Syria, he’s making the same mistake – just like they are – of wanting to get involved in a Middle Eastern civil war where the consequence of their succeeding would be to hand the country over to radical Islamic terrorists. That is not conservative. That is, in fact, Wilsonian progressivism. This notion that America should promote democracy across the globe and intervene militarily to do so is in no way, shape or form conservative.

Most Americans would say it’s “Bushian neoconservatism,” but Cruz is smart enough to know that taking a dig at Dubya will probably hurt him more than help him in a Republican primary. Woodrow Wilson and progressivism are much safer targets. (Glenn Beck, in particular, talks about Wilson and progressivism regularly. Beck’s also been talking up Marco Rubio lately. I wonder if this Cruz soundbite wasn’t aimed specifically at him and his fans.) Either way, libertarians will relish this, probably enough to minimize any damage from the Snowden/traitor criticism. Say what you will about the man but he knows how to triangulate.