Ted Cruz, Military Spending, and the "Liberty Vote"

Can Ted Cruz promise to bust the budget over military spending and still appeal to former Paul supporters?


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in a presidential campaign speech in South Carolina earlier this week, made it very clear that, despite any old Tea Party talk about shrinking government, he as president intends to spend more, more, and more on America's military establishment. His military spending goals as percentage of GDP amount to a plan that, if applied this year, would have meant a military budget 23 percent higher than its actual $583 billion.

Benjamin Friedman at Cato points out the purely fiscal implications of this Cruzian dream. 

Cruz's plan produces a massive increase in military spending: about $1.2 trillion over what would be Cruz's first term and $2.6 trillion over eight years. Details on the chart are at the end of this post.

Cruz is unclear on how he'll fund the buildup….The implication, standard among those trying to look fiscally responsible while throwing money at the military, is that you cut administration to pay for force structure. But Cruz doesn't sustain the pretense beyond attacking the Pentagon's "bloated bureaucracy and social experiments." He never identifies what bureaucracy—commands, budget line or contracts—he'd axe. He doesn't explain how to overcome the Pentagon's tendency to increase overhead during buildups or betray concern about the meager results of past efforts to shift tail to tooth….

Cruz, of course, will not fund his buildup through taxes. Instead, the plan mentions selling federal assets, unspecified spending cuts, and tax revenue juiced by four or five percent annual growth. Wishful thinking seems a fair summary…

As Friedman further points out, none of Cruz's spending or restructuring proposals are matched in any intelligent way with an overall plan for military strategy and purpose, in effect "spending a lot more to do what we are now doing. Like Jeb BushMarco Rubio, and even Dick Cheney, Cruz's rhetorical assaults on the Obama administration's defense policy belie underlying agreement with its premises."

Politico has more details on Cruz's clumsy attempts to seem both a fiscal hawk and a military hawk, noting that he used to show more anti-spending backbone on the matter, at least occasionally:

[His] record on national security has come under fire in the presidential campaign. Rubio has criticized the Texas senator's votes against the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes funding for the Pentagon, as well as his support for a budget from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would have slowed defense spending.

At the same time, Cruz supported an amendment from Rubio himself last year that would have boosted defense spending by hundreds of billions over the next decade….

The biggest challenge he or any other Republican president would face is that the Budget Control Act — which limits both defense and non-defense discretionary spending — kicks back into effect next fall unless Congress acts to change the spending limits.

Even the Obama administration's budget, which Republicans say is decimating the military, includes $100 billion more than the spending caps allow over the next five years.

The very concept of hard spending caps would have to be sacrificed for Cruz's hat tip to an endlessly growing military-industrial complex independent of any larger vision of purpose or strategy for that military.

Will this affect Cruz's quest to win over portions of the "liberty vote" that one might presume would have gone to Rand Paul, were he still in the race? In a likely attempt to appeal to them, Cruz has been outreaching to largely federally-owned Nevadans with a call for divesting federal ownership of its land in favor of the state government out West. Alternately, in another slap in their face, as Ed Krayewski reported yesterday, he's on the government's side against Apple and our privacy when it comes to the "decrypting the San Bernardino terror cell phone" argument.

Joel Kurtinitis wrote a long, detailed personal report that ran on Medium about his turn from Paul to Cruz in Iowa this year. Most of the critiques he and some fellow ex-Ron Paulites had of Rand Paul had to do with his being insufficiently protective of issues important to the evangelical right, like gay marriage, and for a general sense he'd "gone establishment" with his endorsements of other Republicans not beloved of Tea Party types.

Kurtinitis says that Cruz's push for a government shutdown over Obamacare really caught their attention; then after some personal encounters with him on the stump in Iowa he and some other ex-Paul folk concluded:

Cruz spoke our language, and held his own on a wide range of liberty issues including state nullification, the military-industrial complex, and drug policy. There were some areas of disagreement, and his appeal to us wasn't grounded in ideological purism, but in common policy goals. Still, even those who still had reservations came away with more respect for his candid approach and willingness to engage us directly.

For those of us who hold to ideological consistency as a value in both politicians and voters, one might think that Paul people who do value the Paulite perspective on "the military-industrial complex" might be disillusioned by this latest Cruz move.

While actual rigorous social science on this question of the Ron Paul vote of 2008/12, what they believed and wanted, and where they have gone, remains nonexistent as far as I've seen, certainly some observable facts of reality give reason to believe that lots of them have shifted to Cruz, at least in Iowa—and also that lots of them have shifted to Donald Trump (as seems more likely in New Hampshire, where nearly all areas Paul won in 2012 went Trump and only about 15 percent of primary voters seemed to be first-timers) and even Bernie Sanders, as some anecdotal evidence suggests.

Trying to hold such voters to intellectual coherence in a manner typical for a movement libertarian is likely a waste of time. Still, to the extent that anyone attracted to Paul was thus attracted for a couple of his primary characteristics—desire to curb government spending in general and military overreach specifically—Cruz isn't exactly making himself desirable along those lines.