Rand Paul to Ted Cruz: Stop mischaracterizing my foreign policy views

A contrast in styles. Skip to 2:20 below for the key bit. Cruz, I’ve noticed, tends to avoid direct confrontation with Republican colleagues during public appearances. Whenever he’s asked by a reporter about McCain or McConnell, he prefaces his answer with a bunch of caveats about how he “likes” or “respects” them and then steers the conversation towards less personal terms about differing views, etc. When he does attack, the target tends to be unnamed groups, like “the surrender caucus,” rather than individuals. (Indicting Dole, McCain, and Romney by name last week at CPAC for not campaigning as conservatives was a rare exception.) Here’s how he replied last night to Paul’s op-eds in Time and Breitbart criticizing Russia and Reagan-esque poseurs like Cruz:

“Although some would like to play up divisions among Republicans, I have no desire to play their game,” Cruz said. “Rand Paul is a courageous voice for liberty, and I’m honored to call him my friend. We do not agree on everything, especially regarding foreign policy, but we have agreed on the vast majority of issues, and I am sure we will continue to do so. Substantive policy disagreements are a positive aspect of the political discourse, but in the fight for liberty, I am proud to stand with Rand.”

Paul’s approach is different. He’s more willing to engage directly and tends to skip the studious, almost affected politeness with which Cruz always begins when discussing his political enemies. When Christie took an oblique shot at him last year over the NSA, Paul fired right back, and on it went for several rounds culminating in Paul calling Christie “the bacon king” for his spending habits. Same thing again this week. After Cruz repeated his talking point that he and Paul don’t see eye to eye on foreign policy at an event last week, Paul volleyed with two op-eds on the same day, one attacking Cruz in everything but name, plus an interview last night on “Hannity” to warn Cruz again not to “mischaracterize” him. Whether their contrasting styles are a pure product of personality or of something more, I don’t know. Dave Weigel wrote recently that certain subjects reliably rattle Paul; Cruz never seems rattled. Maybe there’s a strategic element to all of it: Cruz, who gets rapped as a “kamikaze conservative,” might be at pains in his interviews to be agreeable and nonconfrontational to defuse that impression. Paul, who gets rapped for being “soft” in his foreign policy, might go out of his way to brawl with critics to prove that he isn’t. Cruz’s role in the “defund” effort last fall and the ensuing shutdown is arguably his biggest liability as a major candidate. Ron Paul’s foreign policy pronouncements are probably Paul’s biggest liability, at least in the primaries. Their confrontation strategies seek to minimize those liabilities in different ways.

Anyway, returning to Cruz’s statement quoted above, foremost among the “some” who’d like to play up divisions among Republicans is … Ted Cruz, no? His statement sounds magnanimous but it repeats, yet again, the point he wants everyone to take away from all this: On foreign policy, Paul and I are different. There are divisions. (And really, there are.) The goal here is to Other-ize Paul by subtly suggesting that his views aren’t mainstream while Paul’s goal, of course, is to claim that they are. That’s how you end up with the odd spectacle below of a budding presidential candidate, eager to set himself apart from his opponents in every other way, emphasizing that his views on a hot topic like Crimea aren’t much different from any other Republican’s. Let’s hope he’s wrong: Per Patrick Brennan, Paul’s plan to counter Russia is vague in some key ways and flatly delusional in others.

The heads of Cruz’s and Paul’s respective staffs are meeting today to try to iron this out. Hmmmm.

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