Cruz is less dan­ger­ous than Trump

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

— As Don­ald Trump stum­bles in his bid for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, one group has been sorely dis­ap­pointed by his be­lated dis­play of weak­ness: Demo­cratic op­er­a­tives, who had been hop­ing fondly to run against him in Novem­ber.

Democrats’ de­light at the prospect of a Trump can­di­dacy is well­founded. Last week’s Wash­ing­ton Post-ABC News poll found that an im­pres­sive 67 per­cent of Amer­i­cans have an un­fa­vor­able view of Trump and only 31 per­cent have a pos­i­tive view — far worse than Ted Cruz (36 per­cent pos­i­tive, 53 per­cent neg­a­tive) or Hil­lary Clin­ton.

All signs sug­gest Trump would be an elec­toral dis­as­ter for Repub­li­cans, but I won’t join those who for that rea­son want him to be the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee. The im­por­tant thing is not what’s best for Democrats but what’s best for the country — and that means not hav­ing a race­bait­ing dem­a­gogue as the nom­i­nee of a ma­jor party.

I’m no Cruz booster. I’ve called him, at var­i­ous points, a mod­ern-day McCarthy and a pro­lific fab­u­list who isn’t above us­ing an anti-Semitic dog whis­tle when he con­demns “New York val­ues.” Many of Cruz’s poli­cies — on gay rights, health care and So­cial Se­cu­rity, for ex­am­ple — are more ob­jec­tion­able than Trump’s.

But Trump isn’t dan­ger­ous be­cause he’s con­ser­va­tive. He’s dan­ger­ous be­cause he seems will­ing to gov­ern out­side our con­sti­tu­tional sys­tem, with his talk of tor­tur­ing pris­on­ers and tar­get­ing in­no­cent civil­ians, with his wink­ing at vi­o­lence at his events and his plans to block en­try to the United States on the ba­sis of re­li­gion.

Clin­ton is well-po­si­tioned to beat ei­ther man, but even if Trump is eas­ier to de­feat, his nom­i­na­tion alone would be a blow to Amer­ica’s global stand­ing, which has al­ready suf­fered from his suc­cess.

Cruz, in the Se­nate and in his cam­paigns, has em­braced the most ex­treme con­ser­va­tive views. But I met Cruz 16 years ago (be­fore his sel­f­rein­ven­tion as a tea party guy) and I’ve spo­ken with many friends and ac­quain­tances from col­lege and law school. This has all led to one con­clu­sion: Cruz, though un­doubt­edly con­ser­va­tive, is above all am­bi­tious. And in ser­vice of that over­rid­ing am­bi­tion, he is per­fectly happy to be a phony.

Doubt his phoni­ness? In an in­ter­view last week with Hamodia, a Jewish news­pa­per, he de­clared that

WASH­ING­TON

“one sem­i­nal event that im­pacted me as a child was the En­tebbe raid,” in which Is­raeli com­man­dos freed hostages of an air­plane hi­jack­ing. “What the En­tebbe raid said to me was, if you’re a ter­ror­ist, you may cap­ture an Is­raeli. ... But you are go­ing to die.” That struck Cruz as “a very Texan ap­proach.”

The raid that spurred such deep thoughts about the Jewish State and the Lone Star State was in 1976 — when Cruz was 5 and not long af­ter his fam­ily moved from Canada.

On the stump, Cruz talks about how Jimmy Carter sup­pos­edly “en­dorsed” Trump by say­ing Trump is “mal­leable” and Cruz is “not mal­leable.” But Cruz is mal­leable, in one way: He won’t let ide­ol­ogy get in the way of his am­bi­tion. (His strad­dle on the Se­nate im­mi­gra­tion bill was art­ful, po­si­tion­ing him­self to say he was for it if it suc­ceeded but against it if it didn’t.) If he were to be­come pres­i­dent, his all-con­sum­ing am­bi­tion would drive him to suc­ceed, which would mean jet­ti­son­ing un­pop­u­lar pro­pos­als. Cruz be­lieves in Cruz — not in the tea party agenda he op­por­tunis­ti­cally rode to power.

Fi­nally, un­like Trump, Cruz is a crea­ture of demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. We see this now in the way he has, through his mas­tery of con­ven­tion rules and his outreach to party in­sid­ers, out­ma­neu­vered Trump in lin­ing up com­mit­ments from del­e­gates. It was al­ways thus, go­ing back to his days run­ning for stu­dent govern­ment at Prince­ton and as a mi­dlevel staffer ag­gres­sively climb­ing his way through Ge­orge W. Bush’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Trump has talked blithely about or­der­ing the mil­i­tary to do il­le­gal things; his bravado sug­gests he’s not in­clined to let small things such as the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers get in his way. He con­curred with a sup­porter’s crude re­mark in call­ing Cruz in­suf­fi­ciently com­mit­ted to tor­ture. And Cruz hasn’t joined Trump’s law­less call for killing the non­com­bat­ant rel­a­tives of ter­ror­ists: “We’ve never tar­geted in­no­cent civil­ians and we’re not go­ing to start now.”

This is why Cruz is less dan­ger­ous than Trump. Cruz is of­ten dis­hon­est and he takes ex­treme and some­times ap­palling po­si­tions. But he has shown an in­cli­na­tion to play by the rules — and that’s a safe­guard Trump doesn’t of­fer.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@wash­post.com.

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