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John Feehery: Three amigos diverge

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GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) are often lumped together in the minds of the media circus, portrayed as Tea Party revolutionaries, radical conservatives and impatient future leaders of the Republican Party. 

But as they spend more time in the Senate, their differences emerge more starkly, and it becomes clear that they are tugging the party in completely different directions. 

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On the big things, of course, they all agree. They all dislike ObamaCare. They all want to cut domestic spending. They all distrust the president. 

But in significant ways, the three amigos diverge.

Cruz won’t give up the Tea Party mantle. His chief claim to fame is his non-filibuster filibuster to defund ObamaCare, a stunt that helped him build his fundraising lists but also marked him as the principle instigator of the government shutdown. Like the Tea Party he represents, Cruz is aiming for a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. His disdain for anybody who has served in the Senate for more than a term is palpable. 

Paul represents the libertarian wing of the party, but he is also a team player extraordinaire. He doesn’t want to destroy the party or save it. He wants to lead the party to a better, more defensible and more successful place. He lent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) his top campaign aide, and by lighting off a stink bomb ahead of Bill Clinton’s recent visit to Kentucky (by reminding folks about the former president’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky), he helped change the media narrative in ways McConnell probably could have never envisioned. 

But Paul is not just a loyal soldier. He is also a policy provocateur. His filibuster, which focused on the domestic use of drones, made him hero to the left and to the right. He has advocated to legalize pot and change our nation’s sentencing guidelines, which provoked some interest in the African-America community. He even Sister Souljahed the Tea Party, telling it to cool it on the anti-Obama rhetoric. 

If Cruz is the Tea Partier and Paul is the libertarian, Rubio is Ronald Reagan. 

Unlike Paul, Rubio believes in a muscled foreign policy. Like Reagan, anti-communism animates his very soul. The Florida senator showed his policy chops with a speech on the chamber’s floor, when he laced into Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (D), who had recently returned from a trip to Cuba. Harkin channeled his inner Lincoln Steffens in an embarrassing spectacle in which he talked about the Castro brothers in glowing terms.  Rubio would have none of that. He had seen the future, and he knows it doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked in Cuba; it won’t work in Venezuela, and it certainly can’t work in the United States of America.

Like Reagan (and unlike Cruz), Rubio doesn’t reflexively dislike immigrants, which is why he wants to fix our broken system. Rubio remembers well when he grew up poor with his father, who was an immigrant, and how he sacrificed to make a better life for himself and his family. Rubio got some considerable grief from the Tea Party and from Cruz for pushing immigration reform, but he did it for the right reasons. 

And Rubio seems to take to heart another Reagan virtue. He believes in the former president’s 11th Commandment, which is to not unnecessarily speak ill of another Republican. Where Cruz glorifies in sticking his finger in the eyes of his GOP colleagues, Rubio does all he can to help his colleagues win. He won’t throw his Senate leadership under the bus, unlike Cruz, who raises money by doing so. 

Cruz, Paul and Rubio might have started at essentially the same place when they were initially elected. They were revolutionaries who promised to stop Barack Obama and change the face of the Republican Party. But they are now marching in different directions. 

Feehery is president of QGA Public Affairs and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as speechwriter to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).