Gaffe Track: Gaffney Track

Nancy Wiechec / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Ted Cruz

The gaffe: The Texas Republican recently named Frank Gaffney as a foreign-policy adviser. Gaffney is outspoken on Islam, and often makes inflammatory and inaccurate statements; the Southern Poverty Law Center named him to its hate list. In 2009, Gaffney called Obama “the first Muslim president,” laying out reasons to suspect he was a crypto-Muslim. Asked about that statement on Monday, Cruz refused to disclaim it, telling Wolf Blitzer, “I'm not interested in playing the media 'gotcha game' of 'Here's every quote everyone who's supporting you has ever said at any point, do you agree with every statement?' That's silliness.”

The defense: In general, it’s hard to hold a candidate to account for every statement any adviser has made.

Why it matters (or doesn’t): That general defense doesn’t really hold up here. Is there any context in which Gaffney’s comments might not be over the line? Besides, presumably Cruz chose Gaffney because of the signal it sends that he is willing to be tough on Islam. It’s possible (though hardly flattering) that Cruz isn’t aware of this specific Gaffney remark, but to be unaware of this aspect of his record is to be unaware of Gaffney’s entire MO. This is a guy who has also claimed that everyone from Hillary Clinton adviser Huma Abedin to famed GOP anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist are agents for Islamism.

The lesson: With friends like this, you’re bound to attract enemies.