The Master

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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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.