Since he first arrived in the Senate, Sen. Ted Cruz has tried to straddle various wings of the Republican Party—libertarian and law-and-order, pro-immigration and Trump-lite, Jeffersonian and Jacksonian—making sure to leave himself wiggle-room by hedging his statements and declining to align himself too closely with any realistic GOP policy initiatives. But as the primary race intensifies and Cruz’s fortunes start to rise, he is moving quickly to redefine himself as more Jacksonian. The latest, and perhaps clearest, example to date is the Texas Senator’s nearly 180-degree turn on Edward Snowden and his exposure of classified documents. The Weekly Standard notes that the Texas Senator, who once praised Snowden, has changed his tune:
Texas senator Ted Cruz now says Edward Snowden is a “traitor” who should be “tried for treason,” Cruz told the New York Times in a statement his current view on the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked the details of a classified surveillance program.
“It is now clear that Snowden is a traitor, and he should be tried for treason,” he said, according to the Times.
That’s a shift from Cruz’s position in 2013 after Snowden went public about the NSA’s program. Asked in June 2013 if Snowden was a traitor or a patriot, Cruz declined to answer, [saying instead]:
… “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.”
Cruz’s shift partly reflects the ways the world has changed in the last two years—the Iran deal, the rise of ISIS, and terrorist attacks at home and abroad have pushed the GOP’s more passive, Jeffersonian wing into near-irrelevance. (Sen. Rand Paul, one of Edward Snowden’s biggest boosters, won’t even be on the debate stage tonight). It also partly reflects the internal dynamics of the GOP race: Cruz is positioning himself to appeal to voters currently backing Trump, who has dominated with his hyper-Jacksonian campaign of ultra-nationalism, “winning,” and personal toughness, unconstrained by constitutional limits.
To be sure, Cruz has also made sure to differentiate himself from more establishment positions as well, attacking Sen. Rubio for what he says is an excessively interventionist posture abroad. Jacksonians and Jeffersonians share a suspicion of foreign entanglements, but Jacksonians are more willing to deal out overwhelming force when threatened, and more willing to give the state whatever power it needs to find and destroy America’s enemies. In that sense, Cruz’s newfound hostility toward Edward Snowden (along with some of his statements on ISIS, like “carpet bombing them into oblivion”) encapsulates his transition to the party’s Jacksonian wing.
Security-first Jacksonians are on the rise in the GOP, and libertarian Jeffersonians are in steep decline. Meanwhile, the Hamiltonian establishment hasn’t figured out a way to align the Hamiltonian agenda with Jacksonian values and interests. That’s one reason immigration is such a potent wedge issue: It divides globally-oriented Hamiltonians and nationalist Jacksonians, even as security issues drive them together. For an establishment candidate to beat out Cruz and Trump for the nomination, he will need to find a way to bridge this deep and growing divide.