Ted Cruz Is No Captain Courageous

Not everything is bigger in Texas.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign on Monday by appealing to the country’s “courageous conservatives.” Fine, you might think, even as you wonder why so few politicians, liberal or conservative, stand up for timidity. Down with such cynicism. Courageous leaders -- an idea worth taking seriously.

What would courageous conservatism actually require? And what, if anything, does it have to do with Cruz?  

In elections, appealing to the party's base doesn't need courage. To challenge the base, you have to be brave. A courageous conservative would be willing to stand up to the ideologues and zealots in the Republican Party and confront truths that they will not. That may be too much to ask of a presidential candidate -- but when one of them claims the mantle of courage, he or she asks to be judged by that standard. 

A courageous conservative would dare to tell the Republican Party that the U.S. economy needs the 11 million immigrants who are here illegally, and many more besides; that they aren't going to be deported, and that it would tank the economy if they were; and that it is long past time for Republicans to put forward a comprehensive plan to fix the immigration system. Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, has the background to make this argument, as other conservatives have done. Apparently he lacks the guts. 

A courageous conservative wouldn't be afraid to tell Republican voters that the scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that human activity is contributing to climate change, which is creating serious economic risks, and that ignoring this danger isn't "conservative." Many Republicans are beginning to face this reality, but no thanks to Cruz. He's adopted the party’s new talking point of calling anyone who favors action on climate change an “alarmist.” 

A courageous conservative wouldn't be content to attack Obamacare, but would be brave enough to say what should replace it. Rather than say that the budget should be balanced in 10 years, the brave conservative would say exactly how this should happen, without resorting to gimmicks. A courageous conservative would dispel the myth that the Common Core education standards are an attempt to create a national curriculum, or that the Second Amendment precludes smarter policies to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people. Cruz doesn't dare. 

He has opposed with distinction -- indeed, to a fault -- but the courage to lead is a very different quality. In his campaign announcement, he said, “This is a time for truth.” He's right about that. Presidential candidates need the courage, now and then, to speak it. 

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.