Politics is a rough business, and the punches don’t always come from the opposing parties. Sometimes, they come from your own party, especially if you do some internal slugging of your own.
Senator Ted Cruz has not been interested sitting quietly in the Congress, to slowly earn points so he can secure a great committee position. Neither is his interest in making nice to gain political friends in his own party. This week, he ruffled a few feathers and drew criticism from former Republican Senator Bob Dole.
While speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland, Cruz, a Tea Party favorite, pointed to three failed Republican presidential campaigns. The first example was Bob Dole in 1996, then Senator John McCain in 2008 and finally the 2012 campaign of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Cruz said these three presidential campaigns should not be used as a model to follow in the 2016 race.
To show he wasn’t carrying out a personal attack on them, Cruz said, “Those are good men, they’re decent men, but when you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate.”
Dole, 90, said yesterday, “Senator Cruz needs to check the record before passing judgment. I was one of President Reagan’s strongest supporters, and my record is that of a traditional Republican conservative.”
Then came Sen. John McCain, 77, who said on NBC News that Cruz “crossed the line.” McCain did not defend himself, but he did defend Bob Dole. “When he throws Bob Dole in there, I wonder if he thinks that Bob Dole stood for principle on a hilltop in Italy when he was so gravely wounded and left part of his body there fighting for our country.”
The problem was that Cruz did not explain his comment well enough. He did defend the men, but it seems obvious he was attacking their campaigns, which were obviously aiming for the political center, and that move to the center put huge strains on their conservative base.
A Cruz spokeswoman responded after the responses from Dole and McCain, saying, “the senator greatly respects these men, particularly the heroic military service.”
This is not the first time Sen. Cruz put his foot in his mouth or got himself in hot water with his republican colleagues. His tactics on the debt ceiling were politically risky and many did not like that idea, knowing that it could easily rebound on them.
The Republican race for the 2016 presidential nomination is wide open, with several considering a run. The Cruz-Dole flap is just a symbol of the divided nature of the republican side of politics right now.