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After Focusing on Social Conservatives, Can Cruz Appeal to Rand Paul's Liberty-Minded Voters?

The Iowa caucus winner recently backtracked on justice reform, Snowden.

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Are they similar enough for Rand fans?
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Sen. Ted Cruz has graced Reason's cover in an analysis of his ambitiousness, his background, his rebelliousness, and the extent that there's a genuine libertarian streak to his positions and behavior. It's worth taking a look at where Cruz stands now on these matters, not just because he won the Iowa caucuses, but with the announcement today that Sen. Rand Paul is suspending his presidential campaign. When reporting Paul's campaign ending, the Wall Street Journal wonders in its lede whether Paul's voters will be breaking Cruz's way.

Paul and Cruz have not exactly been total allies, but they have worked together frequently. In the most recent debate, when Paul dinged Cruz for not being at the Senate to vote on Paul's "Audit the Fed" bill, Cruz responded that he supported it and would be more than happy to sign it when he was president. Cruz also showed up to support Paul's filibuster to stop the renewal of the part of the PATRIOT Act that authorized mass domestic surveillance (though Cruz differed from Paul by supporting the USA Freedom Act compromise, which Paul opposed because it didn't go far enough). Paul also showed up to assist Cruz's anti-Obamacare filibuster.

Recall that a few years ago, Cruz and Paul were lumped together as "Wacko Birds" by Sen. John McCain for not being good establishment conservatives and doing what they were told. But Cruz and Paul are not exactly "wacko birds" of a feather. Nick Gillespie recently decried "Cruz's Laughable Libertarian Pose" over at The Daily Beast, criticizing Cruz's militaristic foreign policy and anti-immigrant animus (and big spending promises). With Rand Paul perceived as more compromising to conservatives and less libertarian than his father, what does that make Cruz in the eyes of libertarian Republican voters?

Here are a few things libertarian Republicans may be chewing over about Cruz when considering where their vote might go (if it goes anywhere at all—staying home is an option, too):

  • Cruz seemed to have captured the evangelical conservative vote in Iowa, indeed bringing out a greater number of them to the caucuses (check out Stephanie Slade's turnout analysis here). Social conservative appeals to religion have played a major role in Cruz's campaign, and he is the most vocal of top candidates in opposition to same-sex marriage recognition. But even so, he promotes giving states authority to decide whether to recognize same-sex marriages, which is essentially the same position as Paul. But unlike Paul, Cruz is willing to bring aboard speakers to actually decry gay marriage as "evil" and "wicked" and to all but call for purges.
  • Cruz has flip-flopped, in a good way, on marijuana legalization. Cruz once criticized President Barack Obama for not demanding the Department of Justice crack down on Colorado and Washington to enforce the federal ban on marijuana use. Cruz has since embraced marijuana federalism, telling attendees at last year's Conservative Political Action Conference that he would let states go their own way, though he personally still opposes legalization.
  • Cruz has flip-flopped, in a bad way, on federal sentencing reform. As Jacob Sullum recently detailed, Cruz was an original co-sponsor of the Smarter Sentencing Act to reduce some federal drug penalties and loosen mandatory minimum sentencing in some drug cases, part of a bipartisan push for criminal justice reform. But now, a year later, he's apparently opposing sentencing reform, stoking fears that those who are released may commit new crimes.
  • After supporting reforms to restrict the federal government's authority to collect mass amounts of metadata from its own citizens, Cruz nevertheless characterized Edward Snowden as a "traitor." Sen. Marco Rubio, who supports pretty much letting the government collect whatever data it wants, has gone after Cruz and Paul in debates for calling for restraints in what the National Security Agency (NSA) may collect without getting a warrant. Cruz supported the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which curtailed the mass collection of all citizen cellphone metadata (but does give the NSA the authority to collect more specific information from phone companies themselves). It's very obvious that this law would never have come into play and the mass surveillance authorities of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act would not have been allowed to expire had Snowden not leaked what the NSA was doing to the American public. Early on, while not excusing the illegality of what Snowden had done, he said it seemed likely that Snowden had "done a valuable public service by bringing it to light." Rubio used those comments to attack Cruz, prompting Cruz's campaign put out a statement in January saying that Snowden's actions had "materially aided terrorists" and that Snowden should be tried for treason.
  • Cruz takes some solid—even brave—positions against corporate subsides. Cruz won Iowa while getting attacked (particularly by Trump) for his call for scaling back and eventually eliminating ethanol subsides, which put him at odds with Iowa's powerful biofuel industry. It was important moment for fighting crony capitalism on the right. He was also an opponent of reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, a cronyist and unneeded institution that uses taxpayer dollars to guarantee loans for major corporations like Boeing. He managed to infuriate the Republican establishment in the process.
  • Cruz, like establishment Republicans, doesn't think cutting spending and shrinking the government applies to the military and immigration enforcement. Cruz has voted against budget resolutions, arguing that we need "meaningful entitlement reform," but also calls for tripling the size of the U.S. border patrol and supports increased military spending.

That's a lot to consider. Establishment conservatives like McCain may see all these "tea party" insurgents the same way, but there are some significant differences between Paul and Cruz as candidates, especially when a libertarian is evaluating what they have to offer.