Ted Cruz Links San Bernardino Shooting to Jihadism

Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz attends the Republican Jewish Coalition's Presidential Forum in Washington on December 3. . Yuri Gripas/REUTERS

Speaking before the Republican Jewish Coalition, several GOP presidential candidates took strong pro-Israel stances on foreign policy in the Middle East, and promised to crack down on Iran and terrorists.

Ted Cruz took the party's pro forma rhetoric a step further, linking the shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed at least 14 people Wednesday to jihadism.

"Yesterday's horrific murder, in the wake of Paris, underscores we're at a time of war whether or not the current administration realizes it," Cruz said. His campaign later tweeted the statement.

The two shooters in San Bernardino, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, were a married couple. Malik was from Pakistan and lived in Saudi Arabia for several years. Official reports on the shooters' motives have not surfaced, but given their Muslim backgrounds, Cruz didn't hesitate to link the rampage with the Paris attacks, which ISIS took credit for, and the idea of a war with "radical Islamic terrorism," a frequent Republican talking point at which Democrats balk. Cruz admitted that the "details" of the San Bernardino massacre were still unclear, but his other remarks were unambiguous.

Cruz wasn't the only candidates speaking at the RJC, though he was the most outspoken. Marco Rubio, who was introduced as "the next President of the United States" (Lindsey Graham didn't get quite the same intro), said of the shooting that "we don't know all the facts yet, but we certainly have learned some facts that are concerning," in light of recent events in the world and a seeming allusion to Paris.

Rubio went on to blame Barack Obama's foreign policy and "abandonment" of Israel for destabilizing the Middle East and making the world less safe for Americans.

"The days of giving the ayatollah of Iran more respect than the prime minister of Israel will be over" on his first day in office, he promised. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House on November 9.

Cruz went a step further than Rubio, implying that the U.S. faces an existential threat from Islamic terrorists on par with the threat Israel feels from its aggressive neighbors.

"If we continue another four or eight years down this road, we will lose this country," Cruz said.

Later today, House Speaker Paul Ryan plans to give an address that will focus on the connection between mass shootings and mental illness, the primary talking point that Republican presidential candidates have raised after mass shootings (there have been multiple massacres since the beginning of the campaign season).

It remains unclear whether the San Bernardino shooters had jihadist motives. One of the shooters was employed as a county health inspector for years before assaulting a clinic that treats developmental disabilities. Until law enforcement produces a report of motive, the shooters' backgrounds will be a powder keg for divisive political rhetoric.

At this stage, it seems clear that, whatever the details are, GOP leaders will want to focus on terrorism and mental health and not gun control.

During brief remarks from the White House, President Obama said that it was "possible" the shooters had "terrorist" motives, but it was also possible that the massacre was "workplace" related (i.e., the act of a disgruntled employee). Obama said that an ongoing FBI investigation hoped to uncover the motives.