Senator Ted Cruz, center, didn't risk much with Republicans by calling for support of Israel. 

Ted Cruz's Empty 'Sister Souljah' Moment

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Oh, c'mon. We're not really going to pretend that Ted Cruz had a "Sister Souljah Moment" when he stormed off a stage last night because he was booed for admonishing Middle Eastern Christians to support Israel.

It's been 20 years, and people may need a refresher.Taegan Goddard's terrific Political Dictionary has a perfectly adequate definition of these kinds of political stunts:

The public repudiation of an extremist person or statement perceived to have some association with a politician or his party.

It's a strategy designed to signal to centrist voters to show that the politician is not beholden to traditional, and sometimes unpopular, interest groups associated with the party.

What mattered about President Bill Clinton's original denunciation of the real Sister Souljah during the 1992 campaign wasn't that he criticized a controversial rap artist; it's that he did so at an event sponsored by Jesse Jackson, who four years before had won 11 state contests and received 7 million votes for a presidential bid. So Clinton's decision to distance himself from Jackson was no small matter, and involved taking on a significant part of his own party. I'm not sure this constitutes political courage (after all, Clinton's action was certainly a calculated bid to appeal both to general election voters and to factions within the Democratic Party that wanted to appeal to general election voters), but it carried some risk.

Cruz, however, will never take on extremists within the Republican Party who may hurt it in the general election; Tailgunner Ted is, or plays at being, the extremist within the Republican Party who could hurt it in the general election.

A true Republican Sister Souljah moment wouldn't involve taking on opponents of Israel. Rather, it could be a smackdown of Republican-aligned fans of Israel who use extreme language. Or it could involve going to some mainstream conservative event hosted by opponents of comprehensive immigration reform and bashing someone who had used extreme anti-immigrant language. Or (as Rand Paul did) questioning Republican efforts to raise hurdles to voting.

You know what would be a real Sister Souljah moment for Cruz? Denouncing his own father's comments.

Ted Cruz isn't going to do anything like that. He's the one who responsible Republicans need to distance themselves from, and the one attempting to enforce ideological correctness on the party (and inventing new tests as quickly as possible, the better to have more perfectly conservative Republicans fail them).

His Sister Souljah moment just isn't going to happen.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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Jonathan Bernstein at

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Max Berley at