Cruz, Trump trade nuance for vitriol

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz quickly tried to out- demagogue each other following the Brussels attacks.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz quickly tried to out- demagogue each other following the Brussels attacks. AP

Long ago, before our politics turned into Jerry Springer meets Porky’s, a quaint bipartisan tradition generally was observed. If a crisis erupted and the president of the United States happened to be out of the country, members of the loyal opposition would refrain from publicly criticizing the commander in chief until his return to American soil.

How antediluvian. How polite. How … civilized.

But those sorts of political good manners have gone the way of hand-cranked phones as we saw last week in the wake of the horrific Brussels terrorist attacks. As President Barack Obama was in the midst of a trip to Cuba and South America, the blood of the Brussels victims was still warm as Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz tried to out-demagogue the other.

Trump speed-dialed Fox News to renew his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States and advocate bringing back the George W. Bush administration’s practice of torturing suspects, beginning with recently captured Salah Abdeslam, who is believed to have been an architect of last November’s Paris terrorist attacks. Apparently Trump was unaware that Abdeslam has been singing like a bird to authorities without the waterboarding.

It’s not easy to out-Trump Trump. But Cruz gave it the old Abu Ghraib try by pledging he would give law enforcement the power to patrol and “secure” Muslim neighborhoods before they can become radicalized.

A presidential candidate who promotes himself as a constitutional scholar is now eager to turn Muslim neighborhoods into a 2016 variation of World War II-era Japanese internment camps.

Now you probably think both these chaps wake every morning and say: “How can I possibly be even more offensively dense today than I was yesterday?” In fact, it takes legions of advisers, flunkies and hangers-on to keep the Trump/Cruz axis of boorishness humming along.

Until recently, Trump claimed that he essentially consulted with himself to develop foreign policy.

But now he has announced his crack foreign policy advisers, who hardly anyone in international affairs has heard of. And quite possibly neither has Trump. As the New York Times reported, the candidate’s five foreign policy chin-rubbers have never spoken to Trump.

On this score the advantage goes to Cruz. His foreign policy team is well known and loopier than Dr. Strangelove. Little wonder Cruz was calling for Muslim neighborhoods to be heavily patrolled and “secured,” when one of his consultants is Frank Gaffney, whose “think tank,” the Center for Security Policy, has been named by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group.

Also joining Cruz’s gathering of beagles was retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who has argued no mosques should be allowed in the United States.

Normally when a presidential candidate starts gaining some traction, all manner of bona fide experts are eager to associate themselves with the campaign. But the best Trump or Cruz can come up with is nonentities or folks who are certifiably scary.

Trump and Cruz were critical of Obama’s foreign travel, perhaps failing to realize that the president is not flying on Allegiant Airlines. Air Force One is fully equipped with sophisticated communications equipment enabling Obama to call the prime minister of Belgium to express his condolences. You would think at least one of these brilliant foreign policy minds could remind their candidates that the president has access to a secure phone.

Too nuanced?