Cruz fails to explain how his favorite three-word phrase saves lives

REUTERS/Ben Brewer
Sen. Ted Cruz speaking at the CNN Town Hall at Riverside Theater in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

I’m back from a nice break and plenty of blessings counting.

I watched the CNN Town Hall from Milwaukee Tuesday night featuring the three remaining candidates for the nomination of the Party of Lincoln.

There were a couple of shards of “news” that came out of the event. All three candidates refused to reaffirm a pledge, which they made at the first GOP debate, to support the eventual Republican nominee. And Donald Trump announced that he would not fire his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who has been charged with battery for laying hands on a female reporter.

Those developments are getting plenty of coverage, so instead I plan to focus on Ted Cruz’ performance. First, let me offer a quick confession: To my amazement, I thought Cruz came across as not only sincere but even likeable. His answers mostly tracked and made sense. Believe me, it almost hurts to write this paragraph.

But notice I said his statements “mostly” tracked and made sense. Despite a greatly reduced level of smarminess, Cruz failed to answer a question I’ve wondered about for some time regarding one of his favorite talking points.

‘Radical Islamic terrorism’

It’s something Cruz has harped on during the entire campaign: the fact that President Obama “won’t even use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’” I’ve grown a little obsessed with this routine, which I’ve heard him perform dozens of times. I always want to say three things back to him about it.

Thing 1: Unless you, Sen. Cruz, think there are forms of terrorism that are moderate, calling a particular form of terrorism “radical” is redundant. If you are going to boil the meaning of life down to a three words, don’t use two that mean essentially the same thing.

Thing 2: You, senator, know perfectly well why Obama generally avoids the phrase you want him to adopt. He is concerned about alienating domestic and foreign Muslims who are not terrorists (whose help he believes the United States needs in fighting ISIS) by adopting a phrase that they might take as an insult to their religion, which they prefer to think of as a religion of peace that is perverted by violent apostates. You may disagree that this is necessary or helpful, but your effort to portray Obama’s preferred word choices as deranged or political correctness run amok are undermined by your unwillingness to acknowledge that Obama has a plausible and possibly helpful reason for his preferred usage. This makes your constant mockery of it seem insincere or unthinking.

Final thing, the really big one: Who cares? If, hoping to shut you up about it already, Obama decided to adopt your preferred (and redundant) three-word phrase, how exactly would it advance the cause of defeating ISIS/ISIL/Daesh?

Tuesday night Cruz proffered an answer to that last question, which sounded almost reasonable unless you think about it. It starts with a question from a member of the audience. The excerpt is lightly edited for flow and concision:

QUESTION: Both Paris and now Brussels have suffered blindside attacks by Islamic terrorists. Although I fear a terrorist attack on the United States, I have a greater fear of the government taking away my constitutional freedoms and privacy in the name of security. As president, how will you ensure that America is not blindly attacked, while also maintaining the privacy of the American people?

CRUZ: Well, Benjamin, thank you for that question, and it’s a very important question.

You know, there are some in politics who say it’s an either/or choice. We can either protect America or protect our civil liberties. I don’t accept that choice. I think it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. I think it is possible — and the difference — something the Obama administration is not very good at — they’re not very good at distinguishing between bad guys and good guys. 

So over and over again, the Obama administration’s solution, for example, when it comes to surveillance, was to monitor the phone calls or the emails of millions of law-abiding citizens, but because of their political correctness, because they won’t focus on and identify radical Islamic terrorists, they don’t actually target the bad guys. It’s why it’s so important.

And y’know, it’s interesting, Benjamin, people in the media, sometimes they ask: Why does it matter whether Obama will say the words “radical Islamic terrorism?” 

[Yes, I’m one of those media people who has wondered this. Please explain, senator.]

It matters because if you don’t identify the problem, you don’t devote — you don’t direct law enforcement and national security resources to stopping it.

I’ll give a specific example from my home state of Florida. Fort Hood. Nidal Hasan committed a horrific terrorist attack there. Now, the Obama administration knew before the attack that Nidal Hasan communicated with Anwar al-Awlaki, a known radical Islamic cleric. They knew that Nidal Hasan had asked about the permissibility of waging jihad and murdering his fellow soldiers. And yet for whatever reason, political correctness or what have you, they didn’t do anything. If we find out that a member of the armed services is talking with a radical Islamic cleric and asking about waging jihad against his fellow soldiers, within minutes, MPs should show up at his door and put him in handcuffs.

But they didn’t do that, and Nidal Hasan murdered 14 innocent souls, including an unborn child, yelling “allahu akbar.” And then the Obama administration in truly a stunning display of political correctness defined that terrorist attack as “workplace violence.” We need to direct our resources at going after the Nidal Hasans, going after the radical Islamic terrorists, and we can do that at the same time as not infringing the privacy of law-abiding Americans, distinguishing between the bad guys and the good guys. That’s what this administration hadn’t been doing.

Wow. That’s the whole answer. It purports to explain why he constantly faults Obama’s refusal to adopt “radical Islamic terrorism” as a buzz phrase. Now I haven’t seen a fact-check of Cruz’ account of the events leading up to the horrible Fort Hood shooting of 2009. But I’d have to say Cruz didn’t quite get to the part where the use of his favorite three-word phrase, which Obama won’t utter, would have saved those lives. You can sort of see where he thinks he’s going, but he just doesn’t get there and, frankly, I’m not sure whether there’s a there to which to get.


Oh, and speaking of fact-checking, Trump, who came on right after Cruz, right away went after Cruz for not knowing his own home state. You may have noticed that Cruz placed Fort Hood (which is in Texas) in Florida and then (strangely, but I wouldn’t get too hung up on it) Cruz referred to Florida as “my home state,” which actually, is also Texas.

Said Trump, right after announcing that he would retain Lewandowski:

“By the way, speaking of something else, I watched Ted Cruz. His home state is not Florida. His home state is Texas. It may be Canada. But to the best of my knowledge, it’s Texas. So he made that — I was surprised you didn’t correct him, actually.”

And then, hilariously, after Cooper tried to press him on whether tolerating Lewandowski was a negative reflection on Trump’s leadership, Trump replied, just a few seconds after the previous reference:

“Oh, I think my leadership is very good. I’ve watched Ted Cruz, I watched him. He didn’t even know what state he comes from, OK? I watched him talking about he comes from the state of Florida. Fort Hood is in Texas, by the way. But if you see what he said. I don’t know. I’m so surprised with him, Anderson, that you let him get away with that.”

To make matters even more confusing, there is also a Fort Hood in Florida and there was a shooting episode there in 2014. Trump’s obsession with Cruz’ slip of the tongue and Cooper’s failure to point it out is obnoxious and ridiculous. But the Nidal Hasan shooting definitely happened at the Fort Hood in Texas, and Florida is definitely not Cruz’ home state. Cruz was born in Canada and grew up in Texas, which remains his home.

So there’s that.

By the way, according to the transcript of the Cruz interview, he managed to work in the phrases “radical Islamic terrorist” (or “terrorists” or “terrorism” or, in one case, “radical Islamic cleric”) an impressive 14 times, beginning with a reference to what he called Obama’s “bizarre pattern — that he has followed for year after year after year — where he refuses to say the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’” and ending with this one:

“I’ll tell ya’, as president, every single day I will wake up fighting radical Islamic terrorism and working to defeat it.”

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/30/2016 - 03:17 pm.

    Good MinnPost link:

    A good discussion of authoritarian behavior patterns.
    A start at accounting for the motivation of Trump’s supporters.

  2. Submitted by C.S. Senne on 03/30/2016 - 12:32 pm.

    Welcome back, Eric! Thanks for the cogent thoughts on the oleaginous & sanctimonious Cruz nomenclature. This fellow is truly scary.

  3. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/30/2016 - 02:09 pm.

    Cruz and Trump are shooting for the fear factor affect only

    Senator Cruz is trying to increase the electorates fear factor with his radical Islamic terrorism comment. Once isn’t enough to do it so he needs to do it 14 times just to increase the fear they want us to have, but we don’t have. Every approach Cruz and Trump have suggested to combat terrorism has been discredited by the military. I trust the military to knowledge far more than either Trump or Cruz who are just taking shots in the dark for the fear factor affect only.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 03/30/2016 - 06:18 pm.

      We’re surrounded!

      Look around . . . It’s everywhere. You’re probably in it right now. We’re probably ALL in it right now! And the terrifying thing is it’s every bit as threatening and dangerous as the extremists Ted and Don warn us about and promise to save us from all the time . . .

      “Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism

      “According to the National Counter Terrorism Center’s 2011 Report on Terrorism, terrorist attacks killed 17 U.S. civilians in 2011 and 15 the year before; overall, a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year [which] should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions.”

      Meanwhile, 2nd Amendment rights alive and well in Chicago:

      So far in March –
      Shot & Killed: 40
      Shot & Wounded: 267
      Total Shot: 307
      Total Homicides: 42

      So far this year –
      Shot & Killed: 126
      Shot & Wounded: 669
      Total Shot: 795
      Total Homicides: 144

  4. Submitted by Rodgers Adams on 03/30/2016 - 02:50 pm.


    Regarding “Thing 1” (an attempt to compare Cruz to Dr. Seuss?), “radical” does not seem to modify “terrorists”; which would indeed be redundant. But isn’t it intended to modify “Islamic,” which would avoid indicting all Muslims.

  5. Submitted by Jim Million on 03/30/2016 - 04:28 pm.

    Cruz Craft

    He thanks everyone “for that question.” It’s a simple way to buy a little time in a quick mind of many replies, shaped to interviewer, network and audience.

    It’s really too bad Christie dropped/fell out. We could have:

    Chris Craft
    Cruz Craft
    Trump Boats

    (oh, and Kasich Kayaks, I suppose)

  6. Submitted by richard owens on 03/30/2016 - 04:51 pm.

    Reverend Ted Cruz

    failed to answer most of Anderson Cooper’s questions, but he sure did talk.

    When the dairy farmer asked him about removing the Latinos, he told Cruz he would be in an immediate crisis for labor if he lost his Latino employees.

    Cruz thanked him for the question and then doubled down the anti-immigrant rhetoric. He pointed out that after the mass deportations wages would rise, and then he could find employees.

    Poor Ted. Poor engorged cows. Poor hungry and neglected cows.

    These candidates need more real world experience.

    See where I’m going with this….?

  7. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/30/2016 - 06:35 pm.


    Could someone explain to me the analogy/relevance of “chewing gum and walking” too “protecting Americans from terrorism and protecting constitutional freedoms”
    So how did Obama personally know about this Nidal Hasam, surely it wasn’t through “infringing on people’s freedom”? OOOPs must have missed that point that this guy spent 2003-2009 at Walter Reed, did GWB personally pass the info on to Obama?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/30/2016 - 08:20 pm.

      Passing on info

      Bill Clinton tried to warn GWB about a 9/11 type attack during the transition, but Bush decided that anything Clinton said or did, he had to do the opposite, so he ignored it.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/31/2016 - 08:16 am.

        Any factual citiation for this?

        Did the FBI, CIA, NSA “ignore” this because WJC was out and GWB was in?

        Don’t believe so…

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/31/2016 - 08:54 am.



          On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda. That morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” A few weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished that goal.

          On April 10, 2004, the Bush White House declassified that daily brief — and only that daily brief — in response to pressure from the 9/11 Commission, which was investigating the events leading to the attack. Administration officials dismissed the document’s significance, saying that, despite the jaw-dropping headline, it was only an assessment of Al Qaeda’s history, not a warning of the impending attack. While some critics considered that claim absurd, a close reading of the brief showed that the argument had some validity.

          That is, unless it was read in conjunction with the daily briefs preceding Aug. 6, the ones the Bush administration would not release. While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.

          The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

          But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat.

          (end quote)

          • Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 03/31/2016 - 09:37 am.

            Essential public facts omitted

            The FBI arrested Mousaoui about that same day (Aug 6). Who turned him? A flight instructor at a school for pilot-wannabees of large commercial aircraft. No way the FBI did not know of the potential risk. Running a *failed* intelligence and information network was what caused 9/11. The info was there–in plain sight. They just did not want to see or understand it.

            • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/31/2016 - 03:25 pm.


              Let’s see: “By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.” So what was Bush supposed to do? Arrest all Muslims? Stop all of them from flying? Start confiscating all box cutters? Anything he would try to do would have been immediately denounced as anti-Muslim and racist actions by the very people who are now blaming him for not acting.

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/31/2016 - 03:40 pm.


            It seems a matter of believing how quickly FBI could have/should have moved. I suppose it also matters where the FBI was on all of this in Feb., and how they were doing before August 6. As an internal threat, this matter was certainly their jurisdiction.

            I note the citation is one of opinion, but that’s fair in this retrospection, where reconstruction is more clear than contemporaneous knowledge.

            People are still arguing Pearl Harbor, for that matter.

  8. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/31/2016 - 12:25 pm.


    I don’t see how it is not obvious, but “radical” in Cruz’ definition applies to “Islamic,” not terrorism so here is the first question answered (and Mr. Adams has already pointed it out). Cruz’ term may not sound grammatically correct but the meaning should be obvious: he wants to distinguish between radical Islam and other Muslims. It is also obvious that Obama’s unwillingness to connect terrorism and radical Islam is indeed “political correctness run amok” and has no “plausible and possibly helpful reason.” Imagine if FDR refused to use the term “German Nazis” in WWII… Most Muslims are as appalled by this terrorism as anyone else so they should not be complaining when people who by their own admission hijacked their peaceful religion are singled out. And finally, the third question. Going back to WWII, imagine calling for fight against “some people who happened to live in Europe and who have some violent ideology and want to subdue the world and kill all the Jews.” Sounds strange? But that is what Obama and many on the left are doing. Under the above definition, a self-proclaimed Nazi would be free to do anything because he would not be a subject to additional attention by the government. And this is exactly what Cruz’ example was about: political correctness that prevented an arrest of a potential terrorist which resulted and multiple deaths. So really it is all about accepting the facts and publicly acknowledging them thus allowing for a realistic policy to be implemented.

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