Ted Cruz casts himself as the guy who can unify the Republican Party and stop the Donald Trump juggernaut.
But should the Texas senator win the nomination, he would be the most conservative Republican presidential choice in several generations — to the right even of Barry Goldwater, the party’s 1964 nominee, who was clobbered by Lyndon Johnson.
Cruz wants to resurrect the gold standard — an idea that went out of fashion with the Great Depression and is panned by most economists. He calls climate change a “pseudoscientific theory.”
He opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest — exceptions that got nods from Republican nominees Mitt Romney, John McCain and President George W. Bush.
And he would eliminate the payroll taxes that fund popular programs like Social Security and Medicare. He would also get rid of the Export-Import Bank, reviled by tea party Republicans but championed by most GOP moderates and business groups — as well as the federal agencies overseeing commerce, energy, taxes and housing.
In rankings of right-leaning groups such as the Club for Growth, the National Taxpayers Union and the American Conservative Union, Cruz consistently ranks as one of the most conservative members of the Senate — much further right, in the ACU’s assessment, than, say, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But some of his policy prescriptions may hurt him if he becomes the nominee and needs to pivot to appeal to a wider swath of voters outside of the evangelical base he has courted assiduously this primary season.
“Cruz would be a disaster with Latinos and nonwhite voters — though he does not say insulting things about women — but his views on choice, gay rights, economic issues are very far right,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory College.
Establishment Republicans, like Ari Fleischer, former spokesman for Bush, say these conservative policy stances may end up in Democratic attack ads if Cruz becomes the nominee.
“There are two ways to look at Ted,” Fleischer said. “Standing on his own, he does not have a history as a unifier,” Fleischer said. “Standing next to Donald Trump, it is amazing what a unifying figure he can become.”
On foreign policy and national security questions, Cruz has sounded, at times, like an uber-hawk, eager to build up the military and fight foreign powers, and at others like an isolationist, similar to Sen. Rand Paul, who doesn’t want to arm rebels to fight the violent regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and who would curtail National Security Agency surveillance.
Cruz received widespread criticism for saying he would “carpet bomb” ISIL-occupied territories — a tactic that targets a large area with little regard for civilian casualties. And he was put on the defensive last month after he called for police patrols of Muslim neighborhoods.
On military spending, Cruz has tried to appease both the hawkish and noninterventionist wings of the party. Last year, he blasted fellow lawmakers for a bipartisan budget deal that “completely annihilates” self-imposed congressional spending caps — an effort to appeal to fiscal conservatives in the GOP. Months later, Cruz is now pushing a defense spending plan that would blow through those same caps by hundreds of billions of dollars. In his campaign, Cruz calls for 50,000 more Army soldiers, more than 75 new Navy warships and nearly 500 additional Air Force planes.
Even some defense hawks who support him seem motivated primarily by antipathy for Trump. “I don’t think [Cruz] would order our troops to commit war crimes,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “I feel far more comfortable with his view of foreign policy than I do Donald Trump’s.”
On abortion, Cruz’s views are out of sync with those of the majority of Americans — roughly 51 percent of adults in the U.S. say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to 2015 polling from the nonprofit Pew Research Center. Forty-three percent say it should be illegal in all or most cases, according to Pew — a partisan divide that’s been largely unchanged for years.
Cruz does not support abortion, even in cases of rape and incest — a position that is likely to alienate independents as well as many Democrats. The anti-abortion group National Right to Life does not keep statistics on the number of senators who espouse that position, says President Carol Tobias. (The group condones abortion only in cases when the life of the mother is in danger.)
Unlike Trump, who describes himself as anti-abortion but supports Planned Parenthood because of other services it offers women, Cruz says he would prosecute and defund the women’s health care agency, which he says in one ad “treats the unborn like another form of currency.”
Cruz has promised to eliminate a handful of federal agencies, from the IRS to the departments that oversee energy, commerce, housing and education — a vow that may be problematic to many Americans. Just 18 percent support the abolishment of the energy, education, commerce and housing departments, while just 34 percent support scrapping the IRS, according to a Gallup poll done in March. The headline on the Gallup poll reads: “Americans Reject Eliminating Departments of Government.”
Climate change is another area where Cruz’s view may seem extreme to many independent voters. He contends climate change is a partisan myth — “the perfect pseudoscientific theory because it can never, ever, ever be disproven,” as he told voters in Conway, New Hampshire. “The climate has always changed since the beginning of time. It will continue to change till the end of time.”
In a 2015 interview with The Texas Tribune, Cruz even compared the criticism that climate change deniers face to the harsh treatment that Galileo faced in the 1600s. “Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers,” Cruz said. “It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.”
Those views put him at odds with 64 percent of Americans who told Gallup pollsters in March that they were worried about global warming — up from 55 percent in March 2015 — and an all-time high response since Gallup asked the question in 2008.
Notably, though, they may not hurt him with Republican voters. Fifty-two percent of Republicans consider the reports about record-high temperatures in 2015 to be accurate, while only 27 percent of them believe that humans are causing climate change, according to another Gallup poll taken in March. By contrast, 84 percent of Democrats believe those temperature reports are accurate, with 72 percent attributing the cause to human activity.
In 2015 in the Senate, Cruz voted for legislation that would gut the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Rule that protects small streams and wetlands: the drinking water of one in three Americans, according to the environmental group the League of Conservation Voters. That same year, Cruz also voted for bills to block the EPA’s restrictions on carbon pollution from existing power plants — regulations introduced by the Obama administration. These moves earned Cruz a score of zero in 2015 on the League of Conservation Voters’ National Environmental Scorecard.
On the issue of taxes, Cruz wants to radically overhaul the tax system. He would slash income tax rates and consolidate all the tax brackets into a single flat tax of just 10 percent and a 16 percent consumption tax “that allows every American to fill out his or her taxes on a postcard.” In his 1996 election campaign, even billionaire publisher Steve Forbes did not go as far, proposing a 17 percent rate — met with bemusement since it would have lowered taxes on the rich and raised them on the poor.
“Trump keeps the current structure of the tax system in place, whereas Cruz is much more in line with the flat tax type of proposals that really do offer a significant departure from the current system,” said Joseph Rosenberg, a senior research associate with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, which conducted the analysis.
The cost to the federal government? It would be $8.6 trillion over a decade, or 3.6 percent of the gross domestic product. Trump’s tax plan, in contrast, would cost the government $9.5 trillion over a decade.
The most unexamined and potentially controversial part of Cruz’s tax plan, however, is the way he eliminates payroll taxes, the employer and employee taxes that fund the trusts of Social Security and Medicare.
“What he does not tell us is what he is doing with the trust funds for Social Security and Medicare, and whether any part of the value-added tax [he has proposed] would go into a trust fund. I don’t think he has ever been asked that question,” said Michael Graetz, a former tax policy official in the George H.W. Bush administration.
Other Republican policy wonks raise similar questions about other Cruz planks as he emerges as a potential alternative to Trump.
“The question is not whether Cruz is too conservative or not, or whether he has modernized the agenda or not. It is: Is he creative enough to adjust to the changing times and changing demographics? That is the challenge to Republicans,” said Peter Wehner, a longtime policy expert who served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
These nuances will not matter to Democrats, who see Cruz’s and Trump’s conservative policies as ripe for attack ads.
“I think it is hard for Cruz to tack to the center, and he has shown no desire to do so,” said longtime Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.
Jeremy Herb and Austin Wright contributed to this report.
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