Ted Cruz is running for president! He’s not going to win, largely because almost everyone hates him and no one trusts him, but Texas’ one-third-term junior senator has never before let insurmountable obstacles or the seeming impossibility of victory temper his ambition. In his speech announcing his candidacy, Cruz asked us all – well, the narrow slice of the Republican electorate that adores him – to imagine a presidency under which the various conservative bromides that have largely come to supplant Republican policymaking are actually translated into reality. No more IRS! Flat tax fever! Whatever the opposite of Obamacare is! And, of course, “a president that finally, finally, finally secures the borders.”
Republican calls to secure the southern border are nothing new, but Cruz clearly feels a special urgency to get our shared frontier with Mexico “finally” locked down to protect the country from all the threats it faces. It doesn’t matter what the actual threat is, or if a stronger border will help prevent it – if it exists, Ted Cruz wants to put up a fence to keep it out.
In January, Cruz was invited to speak at the Heritage Action’s Conservative Policy Summit. His speech was characteristically light on actual “policy,” but he did lay out a few broad ideas for what the new Republican majority in the Senate should try to accomplish, to include “securing the border.” Here’s some of what he had to say:
CRUZ: Right now, the White House is castigating Republicans – “How dare you focus on securing the border?” – literally at the very same time we are seeing terrorists trying to murder free people across the globe. The very same day CENTCOM has been hacked by ISIS, the White House press secretary is too busy saying “no, no, no, don’t do anything to secure the border and protect Americans.” This is a matter of basic common sense.
There are a few things to point out here. The first is that CENTCOM was not hacked. CENTCOM’s Twitter and YouTube accounts were hacked. Whoever was responsible had no access to CENTCOM’s networks or any information regarding national security. It was an embarrassing incident, but easily fixed through the adoption of two-step verification.
More to the point, even if CENTCOM had been hacked, it’s not immediately clear what “securing the border” would do to prevent it from happening again in the future. Hackers don’t need to be present in the United States to carry out this sort of cyberattack. They don’t smuggle malicious code into the country by swallowing it in a balloon. That’s actually the whole point of a cyberattack – you don’t have to physically be there to perform the attack. But “common sense” will lead President Cruz to beef up the nation’s cybersecurity by stationing a few more border patrol agents in the Sonoran Desert.
The Islamic State
Back in September, as President Obama was getting ready to unveil his strategy for taking on the Islamic State, Ted Cruz wrote an Op-Ed for CNN laying out his own strategy for taking on the terrorist organization. It covered a lot of ground, but the most important aspect of the Ted Cruz plan to defeat ISIS was – you guessed it – securing the border:
First and foremost, Washington should resolve to make border security a top priority finally, rather than an afterthought, of this plan in light of concerns about potential ISIS activities on our southern border, cited in a Texas Department of Public Safety bulletin reported by Fox News. As long as our border isn't secure, the government is making it far too easy for terrorists to infiltrate our nation.
What Cruz did here was overhype and already overhyped Fox News report on that Texas DPS bulletin. The bulletin itself said: “A review of ISIS social media messaging during the week ending August 26 shows that militants are expressing an increased interest in the notion that they could clandestinely infiltrate the southwest border of US, for terror attack.” By describing this as “concerns about potential ISIS activities,” Cruz made it seem like there were actual activities to be concerned about, and not just a bunch of guys chattering on Twitter.
Intelligence officials have maintained that there’s no credible indication that ISIS has any plans to sneak into Texas from Mexico anytime soon. But Cruz and other Republicans are convinced it will happen, to the point that they pay no attention to our longer, potentially more dangerous northern border.
Cruz, like many of his GOP compatriots, used last autumn’s Ebola crisis in the U.S. to hammer away at President Obama for failing to keep the country safe from the deadly disease. Appearing on CNN on October 19, Cruz inveighed against the administration for refusing to impose a ban on flights out of West Africa and for not locking down the Mexican border:
CRUZ: The arguments they're giving don't make sense. And -- and what is unfortunate is watching the Obama administration treat this as -- as yet another political issue, rather than as a public health crisis, for the same reason you have seen virtually no attention from the administration on the need to secure the southern border.
Now, that is notwithstanding the fact that General John Kelly, the commander of the Southern Command, just a week ago said if Ebola is transmitted to Central or South America, we will see a mass migration, the like of which we have never seen. And the administration, unfortunately, is not acting to protect our southern borders or to restrict commercial airline flights from places with an active outbreak.
And -- and that just doesn't make sense.
Ebola, of course, never made it across our southern border. (Nor did it come across our northern border, but, again, Republicans don’t talk about the northern border.) If someone infected with Ebola did try to sneak into the country through Mexico, there’s every reason to think they’d die before actually making it to the U.S. – attempting that journey is often fatal for people who don’t have hemorrhagic fevers. The Ebola crisis in the U.S. slowly faded away, without imposing a travel ban and without militarizing the border.
Statements like these fit nicely into Ted Cruz’s reputation as a highly intelligent person who says crazy things because he knows what the tea party and other hardline conservatives like to hear. I don’t doubt that Cruz thinks stronger border security is good policy, but he’s also a cynical opportunist who will use anything – terrorists, diseases, hackers – to make political points that rile up the conservative faithful.