Presidential Candidates

Cruz's Constitutionalism Trumps Trump's Trumpism

The Texas senator is the least scary major-party option.


"If you want someone to grab a beer with," Ted Cruz said during the third Republican presidential debate last October, "I may not be that guy. But if you want someone to drive you home, I will get the job done."

The president as Uber driver is a refreshingly modest view of the job, especially compared to the grandiose dreams of Donald Trump. The boastful billionaire probably would not drive you home, and he definitely would not have a beer with you. Although he once had a vodka named after him, Trump does not drink, which may be just as well, given the appalling things he says when he's sober.

Trump's impromptu approach to public policy suggests that if he were in the driver's seat, he would be guided by nothing but his own whims. Cruz, by contrast, assures us that his map would be the Constitution, and that difference alone makes him clearly preferable to the Republican front-runner.

"I've been passionate my whole life about the Constitution," the Texas senator says, and he seems to mean it. Cruz's campaign website mentions the Constitution more than 1,300 times, compared to the Trump site's paltry 35.

The difference is qualitative as well as quantitative. Given the blatantly unconstitutional policies Trump has endorsed, such as censoring the Internet, closing down mosques, and barring Muslims from entering the country, I doubt he has read the Constitution. If he did, it did not make much of an impression.

Cruz, by contrast, is a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and argued nine cases before the Supreme Court as the solicitor general of Texas. "We will defend the Constitution, every single word of it," he said during the September 16 GOP debate, and he has shown a broader interest in that task than most politicians.

In addition to defending the Second Amendment, as every Republican candidate is expected to do, Cruz has opposed the federal government's mass collection of our phone records, the indefinite detention of Americans deemed threats to national security, and a presidential license to kill suspected terrorists on U.S. soil. He has castigated Democrats for trying to suppress political speech in the name of fighting corruption and criticized Republicans as well as Democrats for abusing executive power (although with considerably less specificity).

Cruz, who promises to "carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion," concedes that he would need congressional authorization for such a war. "It should absolutely take congressional approval," he told ABC News in 2014.

Cruz understands that what the Constitution omits is at least as important as what it says. Declaring that he wants to "protect the people by rolling back the federal government to the functions the Constitution sets out," he lists four federal departments, one agency, and 25 programs that he would eliminate. I doubt Cruz would get far with his list, which in any case would hardly restore the federal government to its constitutional limits. But at least he aspires to that goal, even if he forgets his fiscal conservatism and his determination to shrink government when he talks about the military.

Cruz's dedication to the Constitution is by no means completely consistent. Among other things, he supports the constitutionally unauthorized war on drugs (although he says states should be free to legalize marijuana); touts his defense of the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, which is grounded in an absurdly broad reading of the federal power to regulate interstate commerce; and brags about sponsoring the Expatriate Terrorist Act, which would strip Americans of their citizenship without due process.

Despite such exceptions, Cruz is clearly more inclined to recognize and respect limits on the federal government's power than Trump or either of the two remaining Democrats. For libertarians and constitutionalists, he is the least scary of the bunch.


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  1. Isn’t this story a wee bit late?

    Sure Cruz is a better option, but right now he’s not an option.

    1. I’m guessing this was written in early May or late April — before being published — when it looked like Ted Cruz still had something of a chance.

  2. That’s like saying Ron Paul is a constitutionalist. Same bullshit.
    Sullum is way too secretive about Cruz’s wackier demands. Was opposition to the partial birth abortion ban intended to bury his extreme social conservatism … when his views on abortion are THE most extreme in America.

    On gay marriage Paul and Cruz both use the perverted version of states rights invented by southern racists — that states can violate fundamental constitutional rights whenever they choose, on whatever they choose, and the court has no power to defend against abuse by states. They would stand with Orval Faubus in Little Rock Arkansas. Thoroughly shameful in what was once a a proud libertarian voice.

    See Ninth Amendment, once called “the libertarian amendment” for enshrining unenumerated rights against abuse by all levels of government. Piss on it. Bigotry is more important in the New Inquisition.

  3. I’m not a Ted Cruz fan. What PJ O’rourke said of Hillary Clinton, is true in respect to Cruz for me. He’s wrong about absolutely everything but he is wrong within normal parameters. Given Trump’s incoherent views on just about everything his ideological stance is unidentifiable. Which is why he could just as well be running as a Democrat. If it were between Trump (D) and Cruz (R) I would have to vote Cruz.

  4. Maybe it’s in anticipation of Cruz’s libertarian ticket endorsement. Scorched earth.

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