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April 08, 2014 10:55 AM Cruz, Paul and the Tea Zeitgeist

By Ed Kilgore

At Salon yesterday, Digby took notice of a speech by Ted Cruz at that veritable Stonehenge of the Christian Right, Liberty University, and suggested that if Cruz and Rand Paul are indeed engaged in a battle for the hearts and minds of the Tea Party Movement, the Texan has seized the commanding heights.

In a sign of the power of a dubious CW about the Tea Folk, however, Digby first has to explain that they are not, as often advertised, some sort of fiscally-obsessed band of dissenters against the ancient three-legged stool of the conservative movement (small government, cultural reaction, and foreign policy militancy), but the same old coalition intensified and wearing tri-cornered hats.

And so, she argues, Rand Paul has a dual problem competing with Ted Cruz for this constituency: he doesn’t seem to be very adept at reciting the paranoid poetry of the Christian Right, and is exceedingly vulnerable on national security issues. Stereotypes notwithstanding, Tea Folk are (as Digby shows with some polling data from Pew) actually less likely to support a foreign policy retrenchment or a reduction in defense spending than their non-Tea Republican counterparts.

As I noted yesterday, the vetting of Rand Paul’s unorthodox national security views is just beginning, and Cruz—who has systematically placed himself to the hawkish side of the Kentuckian whenever possible—is in a good position to take advantage of Paul’s “weakness” in this area.

I would add that on the Christian Right front, Cruz is hardly the only likely 2016 candidate who may be able to outflank Paul. If he runs, Mike Huckabee will begin as the presumptive favorite of Christian Right activists, particularly in Iowa. Rick Perry had strong support among Christian Right leaders in 2012. Scott Walker’s personal piety is genuinely conservative evangelical. Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum are well-established in the Catholic Traditionalist wing of the Christian Right. And lest we forget, the emerging “Establishment Republican” champion Jeb Bush has an extensive record of social conservative activism, as the man originally responsible for making the Terri Schiavo case a political cause.

Yes, Ron Paul had a devoted following among certain home-school advocates, and yes, both Pauls have links to the theocratic U.S. Constitution Party. But Digby’s right: the Aqua Buddha devotee just doesn’t sound like a natural thundering against the secularist hordes. You get the sense he’d rather be talking about monetary policy.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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