2016 GOP presidential hopefuls already trading blows

At left, Sen. Ted Cruz during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in April 2013 in Washington, D.C. At right, Rep. Peter King of New York leaves a House Intelligence Committee hearing in November 2012, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Getty Images/CBS News composite

Ask any potential 2016 candidate about their presidential aspirations, and you'll hear the usual non-answers: The next election is a long way off, I'm concentrating on my day job, and, by golly, presidential politics is the last thing on my mind.

The cagey answers are obligatory - anything more forthright would smack of unseemly ambition - but they're also usually rubbish.

Take Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, interviewed Sunday on ABC's "This Week." Cruz, who is believed to be eyeing a presidential run in 2016, was fundraising in Iowa this weekend - a conspicuous and necessary stop for any presidential hopeful. ABC's Jon Karl tried repeatedly to coax something resembling candor out of Cruz, but the freshman Republican declined to take the bait.

Asked if he's running in 2016, Cruz responded: "We are having a national debate about which direction the country should go...And what I am doing now is trying to participate in that national debate. "

"I understand that everyone likes to focus on the politics," he added, but "I'm not focused on the politics."

Karl seemed to smell something funny. "Is it fair to say you're not?" he asked.

Cruz replied: "I've been in the Senate all of seven months. The last office I was elected to was student council. So this has been a bit of a whirlwind."

But despite his lack of expressed interest in the job, it's clear that Cruz would like to keep the door open. Some have raised questions about whether Cruz, born in Canada to a mother from Delaware, is even eligible to be president, given his foreign birth. In the interview with ABC, Cruz dismissed the doubters.

"My mother was born in Wilmington, Delaware," he explained. "She is a U.S. citizen. So I am a U.S. citizen by birth."

And the case is closed, as far as Cruz is concerned. "I'm not going to engage in a legal debate. The facts are clear," he said. "I can tell you where I was born and who my parents were. And then as a legal matter, others can worry about that. I'm not going to engage."

Cruz even managed to sneak in an underhanded dig at another potential GOP hopeful, staking out a platform as an unapologetic conservative that could serve him well in a presidential primary fight come 2016.

He again voiced his opposition to the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill, and knocked one of its Republican co-authors, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is also believed to be eyeballing a presidential run in 2016.

"I think [Rubio] believes in the [Senate] bill," Cruz said. But he added, "If the [Senate] bill became law, in another 10, 20 years, we wouldn't have 11 million people here illegally, we'd have 20 or 30 million."

And as Republicans consider 2016, Cruz said, they should seek a candidate who prizes purity over accommodation.

"You know if you look at the last 40 years, a consistent pattern emerges," he explained. "Republicans nominate a candidate for president who runs as a strong conservative, we win. And we nominate a moderate who doesn't run as a conservative, we lose."

Another Republican 2016 hopeful, however, isn't buying Cruz's claim to be a steadfast conservative, and he believes someone like Cruz would lose if nominated.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told CBS News this week that he's "looking at" a run for president to counteract the influence of "isolationists" within the GOP like Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., whose policies he said would be "very damaging" to the Republican Party and to the country.

On Saturday, King, who has been more frank than most about his presidential designs, again condemned the direction in which Cruz and Paul have steered the GOP's foreign policy conversation, telling ABC that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would eat them alive in the general election if she secures the Democratic nomination.

"I think she's very strong on foreign policy, and I think that if we nominate someone from our isolationist wing of the party, she'll destroy them," he said.

King reserved some sharp elbows for other Republican presidential hopefuls as well. He suggested Rubio demonstrated some "narrowness" in voting against aid for Hurricane Sandy relief, despite hailing from a state commonly ravaged by hurricanes.

"I have some hard feelings after what he did," King said.

And he said he likes Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., but, "as far as defense, Paul hasn't really spoken out on defense."

That's the state of play for 2016 politics within the GOP: Some potential candidates are already trading blows, but they're trying mightily to keep their next move concealed.

  • Jake Miller

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