Updated 3:24 p.m. ET, 3/9/2014
(CNN) – They were both popular speakers who blasted government overreach at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz found themselves at odds this weekend over foreign policy and political strategy.
Both considered potential 2016 presidential contenders with strong tea party support, the two normally line up on a host of issues. But perhaps they’re now trying to draw some distinctions as they wade deeper into the next presidential cycle and gain more attention on the national stage.
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Trying not to ‘drag people down’
Paul, R-Kentucky, said on “Fox News Sunday” he’s focused on broadening the GOP, a message he’s been aggressively pushing for months. But he doesn’t plan on doing that by criticizing those in his own party.
Cruz, for example, is known for taking on the GOP establishment. He made comments last week that generated rebuke from Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Bob Dole - two unsuccessful GOP presidential nominees that Cruz invoked in his speech at CPAC.
"Of course, all of us remember President Dole and President McCain and President Romney. Now look, those are good men, they're decent men. But when you don't stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don't stand for principle, Democrats celebrate," Cruz said in his speech.
Asked on Fox about Cruz’s remarks, Paul said, “Everybody has their own style,” but added, “I don't spend a lot of time trying to drag people down.”
"Can we do things different to get the party bigger? There's always ways we can get bigger, particularly when we don't win,” he continued. “But I don't spend any time sort of trying to criticize others in the party, because I realize the party has to be bigger, not smaller.”
Foreign policy—Reagan style
On another Sunday show, ABC’s “This Week,” Cruz said he considers Paul a friend but stands in contrast with the libertarian-leaning senator in one area.
“I don't agree with him on foreign policy,” he said. “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did.”
As the crisis in Ukraine was unfolding, Paul told The Washington Post last month that Republicans are too often trying to “tweak Russia.”
"Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era, they want to tweak Russia all the time, and I don't think that's a good idea,” he said.
The comment caused a stir among more hawkish members of the party, who painted it as another example where Paul is an outlier when it comes to national security and foreign policy.
As tensions escalated a few days later, Paul issued a more stern statement, saying “Russian intervention in Ukraine would be dangerous for both nations, and for the rest of the world.”
But in Cruz’s interview that aired Sunday, he argued for a more forceful approach with Russia, invoking a pivotal point in the Cold War.
“When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire,’ when he stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and said, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,’ those words changed the course of history,” he said. “The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”
While Paul was not responding to Cruz’s interview, the senator from Kentucky went on to defend himself against critics who say he’s too soft on the issue. He also used Reagan as an example.
“I'm a great believer in Ronald Reagan. I'm a great believer in a strong national defense. In fact, what Ronald Reagan said in about one sentence sums up … a lot of what I believe. He said to our potential adversary …’Don't mistake our reluctance for war for a lack of resolve.’ People knew that with Ronald Reagan. They still need to know that with the United States.”
Paul added a line of attack that was repeatedly used at CPAC last week, arguing Russia’s aggression is in part due to a weak Obama administration.
“And part of the problem is, I think, this President hasn't projected enough strength and hasn't shown a priority to the national defense,” he said. “That is something that, were I in charge, I would.”
Stage getting set for 2016?
Paul won 31% of the closely-watched CPAC presidential straw poll vote. It was the second straight year the lawmaker topped the poll at the annual gathering.
"My family's talking about it," Paul said Sunday, referring to a White House bid. He added that for now, he is focused on other issues, like suing President Obama.
His closest competitor in the straw poll, Cruz, came in at a distant second place with just 11%.
CPAC is the largest annual gathering of conservative leaders and activists and is a must-attend cattle call for GOP presidential hopefuls looking to pass the right-wing litmus test.
Polling indicates no real frontrunner among the potential GOP contenders so far. The next race for the White House officially doesn't get under way until after November's midterm election, and it's fair to say presidential surveys this early are often heavily influenced by name recognition.
Paul is suing the Obama administration over the National Security Agency's collection of phone metadata, a surveillance program brought to light last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
But at the same time he's filing a lawsuit, Paul is working with Attorney General Eric Holder. The two recently had lunch to discuss mandatory jail sentences for nonviolent drug offenders–a meal which brought Paul some criticism from the right.
But to those critics, Paul said they shouldn't worry he's getting too cozy with Holder.
When he left the meeting, Paul said, he told Holder, "I'll see you in court."
“Can we do things different to get the party bigger?"
It'll be interesting to watch. The very same people the GOP has been ranting against for five years are now to be invited into Rand Paul's fold of forgiveness and trust? I don't think so. Rand Paul has his work cut out for him. Ranting against government while being in government is just the beginning of his double talk. Same applies to the people he's spent his life surrounded by; those who aren't exactly stellar advocates for those he now wants to double talk into thinking he's going to be their advocate in their basic need of respect and societal acceptance in a party which has no intentions of accepting them or their kind. The GOP has spent decades pushing others OUT of their party. And this immature nobody thinks he's going chance decades of political abuse?
People thought Obama was a dreamer.
Is Canadian-Born Ted Cruz Eligible to Run for President?
Will the Birthers Scrutinize Ted Cruz U.S. Citizenship?One has to wonder if the birthers will raise an outcry again
Um, Ted Cruz's father was not American at the time of his birth. He was Cuban. That's right... who happily fought alongside Fidel Castro as a teen TED CRUZ's FATHER IS A CUBAN. Rafael Bienvenido Cruz, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, told NPR that though he came to the country legally, he essentially bribed an official to get out of Cuba so he could come over.In an interview near his home outside Dallas, the elder Cruz says that as a teenager, he fought alongside Fidel Castro’s forces to overthrow Cuba’s U.S.-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista. He was caught by Batista’s forces, he says, and jailed and beaten before being released. It was 1957, and Cruz decided to get out of Cuba by applying to the University of Texas. Upon being admitted, he adds, he got a four-year student visa at the U.S. Consulate in Havana. And his mother was an American. And he was born in Calgary Alberta. I don't know how having a Cuban father makes you more American than Obama somehow.
After hearing a lot of hate and bigotry coming out of CPAC this weekend, I don't think the party of 89% white is interested in making the GOP country club bigger. The baggers view their party much like their view on government, "smaller is better."
I love Palins theme "the end of an error." Kinda gives the people who are ashamed they noted for Obozo an out.
It's not the size of the gop,it's the message that is rejected.WISE UP!
Rand Paul: You want to talk about "spying"? How about corporate America joining Facebook and other social media to snoop into what their employees are thinking, doing, saying?
So, when is he going to sue corporate America? Oh, yeah. Not going to happen. Corporations have rights. Like discriminating against those they don't want to serve. Spying on those they consider subservient. Tracking their employees thoughts, deeds, misdeeds, and anything else corporate America feels is corporate America's personal business.
Freedom? No. Rand Paul is a hypocrite of the first order. How fitting that he should think he is the future such as it is of the Republican party which is itself filled with nothing but hypocrisy.
Sen Rand Paul has a Herculean task if he wants to make a bigger tent for the GOP. Some of his libertarian ideas may not sit well with party activists and zealots who demand conservative ideological purity.
What Paul doesn't understand is that Cruz represents the Republican Party now.
No longer are there Tea Party and Republicans..... Only the Republican Party and Cruz is the "standard bearer" for it.
Cruz with his beliefs and principles – and the Republican Party – are now one in the same.
People should stop using the words "Tea Party" anymore, their philosophy has taken over the Republican Party for good.
Paul as zero chance of beating Cruz for the Republican Nomination.
The more libertarian loons he brings in the more conservatives he will lose.
You will get my vote when you stand up to the top 1% whom you work for, instead of trying to Sue NSA who are defending this Country against an enemy who killed and torture their own citizens (Russia and China). One moment they say the President is compromising our national security by cutting the army budget, and the next go after NSA, because the Fox Channel viewers don't like it. Mind you it was the Republicans who gave NSA all of its powers. I'm glad the percentage of idiots who vote for the Tea baggers is less than 30%. Vote democrats in November if you want to stop the top1% and their buddies like the Cuban Alien Cruz.
Palin is a much better man than 0bama ever will be !
Rant, please point to any nation in the history of the world that created and maintained broad-based economic prosperity and social justice by following your ideas?
Ted Cruz / Sarah Palin 2016
We need more bed time stories !
Where are the birthers when you need them.
rafaelito CANNOT be president of the US. He's a Canadian born citizen and he can give up his Canadian citizenship 50 times over (like Obamacare voting) and still NOT be a US born citizen.
American mother or not.
@chris-E al, the screecher from AK is not even a real woman of any kind. How can she be a better man than Obama?
So, you're telling me that a Canadian born son of a Cuban revolutionary is a front-runner for the presidency? Does the Constitution not prohibit this already or am I mistaken?
One Cuban Canadian defector and one john birch society member have NO chance of EVER being elected president, maybe they should try SOMIALIA where they have the same values!!!!!
Ron Paul/Ted Cruz for taking USA to drainage tubes, we can dump them too in there.
Cruz vs Paul: Whoever wins, America loses.
It's interesting to eat the very angry liberals on here talk about birthers as if they were so prevalent within the repubs and are so clueless to realize that they were just a loud angry fringe......just like you. A loud angry fringe.
Here's a pair to draw two.
Stuffitu I love Palins theme "the end of an error." Kinda gives the people who are ashamed they noted for Obozo an out.
Somehow, insults from Sarah Palin regarding PRESIDENT Obama are just too funny. I can't even take this woman seriously. MAYBE if McCain hadn't been trying to fool the female population of this country, he would have picked a more suitable running mate. However big an "error" Sarah thinks PRESIDENT Obama is, we were still too smart to vote for HER!
The McCarthy vs. Gilligan? It doesn't matter, the GOP is the loser no matter who wins.
Yep, they're going to both keep making lots of noise and then arm-wrestle for which one gets to be the top (of the gop ticket).
Pretty sorry that the "best" the gop can offer is someone who can't be POTUS (Cruz isn't a natural-born citizen, thanks to his daddy being a Cuban when he was born in Canada) and someone who shouldn't be POTUS (Rant has yet to reveal what nation in the history of our planet has had sustainable, broad-based economic prosperity and social justice as a result of the policies he claims would be oh-so-good for our country).
The question is who is the bigger fool. Do you want a candidate that doesn't like any legislation that has been enacted by Democrats because of who voted for it? The other side is that there is some guy who wants to isolate the US from the world because he thinks that everyone can take care of themselves.