There is a comforting consistency—you know, verification that there is a predictable world out there where Russian presidents don’t pen New York Times op-eds undermining their own diplomatic efforts—in finding that Ted Cruz considers the late Jesse Helms a major role model. And that’s not just because Cruz seems to be well on the way to becoming a vicious demagogue in the Helms tradition.
No, Cruz also represents more distinctly the kind of conservative politics that Helms exemplified, as I tried to summarize in a 2008 review of a biography of ol’ Jesse for the Washington Monthly:
There are three areas in which Helms’s model for other conservatives is [well] known but sometimes underestimated: culture-war “wedge” politics; legislative obstructionism in the Senate; and an antirealist, unilateralist foreign policy posture.
Cruz is clearly following in The Master’s footsteps on the first two fronts, but how about on international issues? Here’s how I encapsulated the Helms foreign policy legacy:
Helms spent his entire thirty years in the Senate battling the State Department’s career diplomats and championing a guns-and-ideology approach to foreign policy that blended Old Right isolationist tendencies with New Right militarism and imperial arrogance.
Sound familiar? Yeah, Cruz is in many respects a slicker and definitely more cosmopolitan version of the Tar Heel Pioneer of what we used to call the New Right. It’s a testament less to Cruz’s qualities than to the much greater strength of the New Right today that he’s achieved such instant celebrity.
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