One is accused of being hawkish, the other isolationist. One hopes to become the darling of the conservative Christian right, the other is looking to appeal to a broader base, from establishment conservatives to students at Howard University and UC-Berkeley.
In spite of themselves, though, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are kind of the same.
Or at least they’re strikingly similar if you look at their congressional voting records. Morning Consult reviewed roll-call votes dating back to January 2013, when Cruz joined the Senate, and found that the two lawmakers voted together 93 percent of the time. They differed on only 29 of 416 votes, excluding procedural matters.
It’s a similarity that Paul himself has acknowledged.
“We kind of come from the same wing of the party, and if you look at our voting records you’ll find that we’re very, very similar,” Paul told “The Kelly File” last month.
But do nearly twin voting records indicate twin candidates?
Absolutely not, said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute and co-author of the 2012 book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism.”
“If you are a conservative Republican, you’re going to end up casting a lot of votes that will be identical to a lot of other conservative Republicans,” Ornstein said in an interview.
What matters more, Ornstein said, is what candidates do to differentiate themselves from their opponents. “Votes on the floor don’t tell you much of anything about the strategy that a president would follow,” he said.
Eleanor May, the press secretary for Paul’s campaign, said in an email: “Sen. Paul’s voting record speaks for itself. He is one of the most conservative members of the Senate, yet he is still able to work across the aisle to introduce much-needed reforms and bipartisan legislation.”
Cruz’s Senate office did not respond to a request for comment.
John Hudak, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and author of the 2014 book “Presidential Pork,” notes that junior senators like Cruz, 44, and Paul, 52, often don’t have much of a say in what they’re voting on.
“For most of their time in the Senate, those choices were determined by Democrats,” he said. “So they’re left to vote on whatever comes up.”
Hudak also noted that voting records fail to reflect the nuances of ideology. “Generally, you’re just voting up or down on bills that you don’t control,” he said. “And so they’re likely to have similar outcomes on these votes, even if they don’t see eye to eye on the policies. They might vote yes together for different reasons; they might vote no together for different reasons.”
So are their similar voting records a moot point? Not quite.
Confirmations are a major point of disagreement. Of the 29 diverging votes, 16 pertained to nominees for federal courts or administration posts. In addition to the confirmations of members of the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors and U.S. district judges for Montana, there were some high-profile cases where the two senators differed.
Paul voted in favor of the following nominees opposed by Cruz: John Kerry for secretary of state; Heather Higginbottom for deputy secretary of state; Jacob Lew for Treasury secretary; Chuck Hagel for Defense secretary; and Peter Kadzik for assistant attorney general. The exception is James Comey’s confirmation vote for FBI director – he earned a “yea” vote from Cruz and a “nay” from Paul.
Ornstein interpreted those high-profile confirmation votes as a way for Cruz and Paul to show what kind of politicians they are and what kind of president they would be.
“Cruz is saying, ‘No more of these compromisers; we need a purist,’” Ornstein said. “Paul is saying, ‘I can win the mushy middle.’”
The confirmation votes also indicate Paul is, as Ornstein put it, more willing to “give the president his people.” He wants to push back against criticism of his foreign policy and show that he can be pragmatic, Ornstein said, adding that this is particularly true with Paul’s affirmative vote for Kerry.
There are also several policy votes in which Paul was part of a small minority of senators to vote nay.
Hudak said those votes might show that Paul has some shreds of libertarian ideology left in him. “This theme in the media that Rand Paul is libertarian is nonsense, but there are certain issues that he takes a libertarian view on,” he said.
Still, Hudak said Paul’s willingness to be part of a contrarian group is a way of differentiating from the party pack.
“Even when Republicans are voting in high numbers for bills there are times when there’s something about legislation that irks Senator Paul, and he’s not willing to go along with sort of partisan groupthink on the issue,” Hudak said.
Cruz also has some standout votes. In his case they’re more for judicial and legal confirmations. Paul and Cruz disagreed on eight judicial confirmations – and on five of those, Cruz voted no.
Why is Cruz so persnickety when it comes to judges, including positions that aren’t considered high-profile, like the U.S. district judges for Arizona, Maine and Montana? It might be, according to Ornstein, because Cruz is trying to project an attitude of political purism.
For some legal analysts, those votes reveal Cruz’s true colors.
Michele Jawando, vice president for Legal Progress at the Washington-based Center for American Progress, said Cruz’s voting record on judges show an unwillingness to compromise.
“I actually don’t think it’s about the quality of the nominees, because the nominees that were put forth had impeccable credentials and had bipartisan support, because they were confirmed,” Jawando said in an interview.
In Tuesday’s campaign launch, Paul made a point of saying he’s a “different kind of Republican” – and a different kind of politician, one who has nothing to do with the convoluted ways of the “Washington machine.”
“Too often when Republicans have won we have squandered our victory by becoming part of the Washington machine. That’s not who I am,” he said.
So, in spite of their parallel voting records, Cruz and Paul are viewed as different candidates who don’t see eye-to-eye on policy. That means the folks at Cruz/Paul 2016 may have to give up their dream, after all.