TrusTED. That was one of the Ted Cruz presidential campaign’s favorite refrains in 2016. At the time, it made some sense. Cruz, for all of his obvious ambition and penchant for stunts (remember when he read Green Eggs and Ham during a 21-hour speech to the U.S. Senate in 2013?) was one of the two or three most conservative members of the upper chamber (depending on your measure). And although his antics often irritated his colleagues — Lindsey Graham once remarked that “if you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you” — they did help him gain the trust of the Republican base.
It wasn’t enough in 2016, though. Donald Trump stole the show by making Cruz’s antics look like child’s play, and the rest of the Republican primary field was too fractured to coalesce around someone fit for office. Cruz had to settle for silver. For a moment, at the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC), it seemed that you might really be able to continue to trust Ted. In his address, Cruz declined to endorse the nominee, instead declaring the following:
If you love our country, and love your children as much as I know that you do, stand and speak and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.
Right then, it looked as if Cruz may have really meant everything he had said and done during his first term in the Senate. Perhaps they hadn’t been cynical political ploys. Perhaps he really was a man of principle.
Surprised by the chorus of boos that greeted him at the RNC and chastened by the avalanche of criticism that he faced in his speech’s aftermath, Cruz backpedaled and endorsed Trump. Without exception, Ted Cruz will do whatever Ted Cruz believes is best for Ted Cruz’s career. Unfortunately for Ted Cruz, and for the rest of us, he is sometimes hopelessly wrong about what exactly that is.
Which brings us to yesterday, when rioters who attended President Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally tore down fencing, climbed over barriers, and attacked law enforcement while Vice President Mike Pence and both chambers of Congress were busy certifying the Electoral College results inside the Capitol. The Madison Building (part of the Library of Congress,) Cannon House Office Building, and eventually the Capitol itself were all evacuated, as were some private residences on the Hill. A pipe bomb was found at the Republican National Committee. Authorities were thankfully able to safely detonate it before things got even uglier and bloodier. Inside the Capitol, our own John McCormack reported that the Senate loudspeaker warned its inhabitants to stay away from windows and doors, and that gas was used to repel rioters. That was before the massive incursion into the building forced the evacuation. Four people died in the ensuing American carnage. And instead of unequivocally condemning the violence and disorder, Trump egged them on.
He tweeted that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution” because the vice president wouldn’t unilaterally yet impotently attempt to overturn the November election. In so doing, he put a target on the back of the man a heartbeat away from the presidency. A man who already found himself in dangerous circumstances of Trump’s own making. Once rioters entered the Capitol, they reportedly hunted for Pence; God only knows what would have happened if they had found him.
Trump urged the rioters to “stay” peaceful after they had already attacked law enforcement, broken windows, and forced their way into the building. When he finally instructed his rioters to go home, hours after what Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell characterized as a “failed insurrection” had begun, he reiterated that he believed the election to have been stolen and assured the thugs inside the Capitol, “We love you, you’re very special.” A day that began with President Trump’s rally ended with death, destruction, and desecration.
Yet the origin of yesterday’s events was not a rally — sure, that was the spark — but an idea. A deeply pernicious idea that the election had been stolen from President Trump. An idea propagated by none other than Ted Cruz. Prior to yesterday’s events, Cruz had pledged to object to the certification of the Electoral College vote in all of the battleground states and to call for an electoral commission to investigate the myriad fraud claims made by the president and his legal team over the last two months. Forget that these claims have been investigated, litigated, and disproved over and over again, Cruz was willing to muddy the waters further, divide the country more deeply, and even risk violence to do what he does best: stage a political stunt.
In fact, he still is. Even after the siege on the Capitol Building, Cruz shamelessly voted to overturn the results of the election and throw out the electoral votes in both Arizona and Pennsylvania. Right when his country and party needed him most, when its most high-profile, rock-ribbed, ruby-red conservative in the Senate could have stood up and said “enough” to the lies, he couldn’t bring himself to be any more responsible than Donald Trump. Except Cruz is perhaps even more culpable, since he assuredly knows better.
Mitch McConnell gave extraordinary speeches before and after the attack on the Capitol, dismissing the president’s conspiracy theories and calling the vote to certify the election results the most important of his career. Mitt Romney blasted the president for allowing his “injured pride” to “incite an insurrection.” Ben Sasse and Mike Lee both unequivocally denounced the effort to overturn the election and the incursion on the Capitol. But many Republicans believe Romney to be a squish, McConnell to be a snake, Sasse to be a glorified history professor, and they don’t know who Mike Lee is. Only Cruz had the trust and stature within the party to end this.
This hour was made to be Ted Cruz’s finest. Instead, it was his most dishonorable.