- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

ANDERSON, S.C. — It’s one of the more unusual applause lines of the campaign, but Sen. Ted Cruz got a big ovation Tuesday night when he promised supporters that he would try to stop American women from having to register for the draft.

Although not a major voting issue for South Carolina Republicans, the draft has become a symbolic dividing line between conservatives and establishment candidates in the presidential race, and voters are taking note and picking sides.

Mr. Cruz, the most vocal advocate for keeping the draft closed, is forcefully going after anti-draft voters in a state where veterans and their families make up a large percentage of the population — and particularly the Republican primary electorate.

“I tell you this as a father of two young daughters. We will not be drafting women and forcing them into combat roles,” said the senator from Texas, drawing a surprisingly strong ovation at a rally in Anderson.

Part of the reason Mr. Cruz is highlighting the issue is it is yet another area where he breaks with the rest of the field. In a debate this month in New Hampshire, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who was still in the race at the time — all signaled a willingness to open the draft to women.

Mr. Cruz on Tuesday said that was stunning to him.

“I was half expecting Rod Serling to walk out and go, ‘You have entered the Twilight Zone.’ We’ve got to say enough is enough to this politically correct nonsense,” Mr. Cruz said.

Mr. Rubio says he believes women should register for the Selective Service System but doesn’t believe a draft would be necessary, and “women would certainly not be drafted into combat.”

The issue isn’t likely to win many converts. It’s not something South Carolinians regularly discuss, but it is helping solidify those who already support Mr. Cruz and is likely ensuring that another campaign won’t peel away his votes.

“I’m not opposed to women serving in the military if they want to, but what percentage of females are actually willing or able to meet the criteria?” said Brian Aiken, 49, a pastor and schoolteacher who was one of those who gave Mr. Cruz’s anti-draft vow a standing ovation in Anderson.

“I use the analogy of a football team. You look at a football team, and cheerleaders if they institute the draft for females, a cheerleader’s just as likely to be drafted as a linebacker. Which is more suitable to defend our country?” Mr. Aiken said. “It is political correctness that is very dangerous to the American people.”

But across the state, at a rally for Mr. Bush in North Charleston, Joe Holcomb said the door has been opened.

“If they want to be there, it’s equal rights, man,” he said.

Still, he said, it wasn’t a major issue for him in picking a candidate.

Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who is supporting Mr. Cruz and was on the campaign trail with him Tuesday night, said the draft issue perfectly illustrates the ideological fight within the party.

“This is the difference between the establishment wing of the party and the conservatives in the party. You can take somebody like, well, Rubio — he accepts the [Supreme Court’s] directive on marriage, gay marriage, and says it’s the law of the land to him. It’s not to Ted Cruz, it’s not to me. Women in the draft? They can accept women in the draft. I can’t, Ted can’t,” Mr. King said.

He said it’s symbolic of deeper divisions.

“The establishment wing of the party believes in societal evolution. They think that those things that happen are the progress that a society makes and so they accept them as though we are evolving into some future civilization that’s not going to be recognizable. Conservatives believe that human nature doesn’t change, and neither does right or wrong change. Therefore, we adhere to marriage as it’s always been, and we adhere to, say, a manly draft, if we need to have a draft at all,” he said. “So we’re not accepting the idea that society moves on and you can’t change it. And we don’t have to then try to get in front of it or keep up with it to keep our seats. We stand on principles that are timeless.”

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, has polled all of the candidates on a host of key military issues, including a question specifically about women’s exemption from Selective Service registration. She said Mr. Rubio, Donald Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson have yet to answer.

Ms. Donnelly said the underlying issue is whether the government should order women to serve in direct ground combat units such as the infantry. She said assurances that standards won’t be relaxed for women are not convincing when coupled with calls for “diversity metrics” to try to entice more women to join.

President Obama has ordered that women be eligible for combat service, and Congress has not countermanded him. Ms. Donnelly said that leaves the next president facing major decisions about how to proceed.

Ms. Donnelly said the fact that Mr. Cruz is proudly pronouncing his stance, Mr. Rubio is pushing back against claims that he wants women drafted and Mr. Bush is not talking about the issue on the campaign trail suggests where Republican voters are on the issue.

Bush, Rubio and Christie appeared to be swallowing whole the feminist meme that women have a ‘right’ to face double injury rates, career penalties due to inability to handle disproportionate burdens, and violence at the hands of the enemy under orders to serve in combat arms units,” she said.

She said recent polling of voters suggests women are generally opposed to registering for the draft and about three in five men say women should be signed up.

At a CNN town hall this month, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton dodged the question of drafting women.

She said the issue came to her attention only a day earlier. That was when Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller backed the idea at a hearing on Capitol Hill, citing new rules opening combat jobs to women.

“I have to think about whether I think it’s necessary to go as far as our military officers are recommending,” said Mrs. Clinton. “You know, from my perspective, the all-volunteer military has worked, and we should not do anything that undermines it because it has provided a solid core of people who are willing to serve our country.”

She added, “The idea of having everybody register concerns me a little bit unless we have a better idea of where that’s going to come out.”

However, Mrs. Clinton said she would endorse, without reservation, a system that requires everybody to automatically register to vote at age 18. She has made that goal part of her voting rights agenda.

Her far-left rival, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, has not taken a position, and his campaign refused to so Wednesday.

The National Organization for Women didn’t equivocate.

NOW President Terry O’Neill said that, although the organization opposes the draft for all U.S. citizens, it supports mandatory registration as a matter of equal treatment.

“We don’t think women should be exempt from the draft any more than they should be exempt from combat roles,” Ms. O’Neill said in a recent interview with Scripps Howard News Service.

“The military finally took action to recognize women should be eligible for combat pay, and they should be eligible for combat-related promotions, and we feel that way about the draft as well,” she said. “Of course, women should be treated the same as men.”

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