Firestarter: Ted Cruz’s cynical election gambit helped ignite the Capitol riot

click to enlarge Firestarter: Ted Cruz’s cynical election gambit helped ignite the Capitol riot
During his time on the national political stage, Sen. Ted Cruz has been a punchline: an unctuous, arrogant prick whose name alone — like, say, Kanye West’s — can elicit chuckles during late-night show monologues.

Now, after the events of Wednesday, January 6, nobody’s laughing.

Shortly after the Texas Republican gave a speech objecting to Congress’ certification of president-elect Joe Biden’s legitimate November win, armed insurrectionists fueled by those same deceitful claims of election fraud overran the U.S. Capitol.

Five people died in the carnage, which marked the first non-peaceful transfer of presidential power in U.S. history.

That same day, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, and his brother Julián Castro, a former Democratic presidential candidate, issued Twitter statements demanding Cruz step down immediately.

“He has conducted himself shamelessly, and I think he has done this because he believes it’s the only way, the only chance that he has to win the Republican nomination for president,” Joaquin Castro told the Texas Tribune.

More calls for Cruz’s resignation have followed.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, echoed the Castros’ sentiment, adding that if he doesn’t leave, the Senate should expel him.

An editorial in Cruz’s hometown newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, also called for him to relinquish his seat, accusing him of spinning a “web of deception,” then “feigning concern that millions of Americans had gotten caught up in it.”

click to enlarge Firestarter: Ted Cruz’s cynical election gambit helped ignite the Capitol riot
Backing away

The senator’s response to the outcry has been textbook Cruz.

The national debate champion and Harvard Law grad has tried to lawyer his way out of the scandal, maintaining that he never wanted to reverse the election, only to seek a 10-day probe into questions about widespread voter fraud. After all, he argued, polls show more than a third of the electorate believes that’s the case.

To hear Cruz explain it, he was Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith struggling to heal a divided country.

“What I have said is that serious claims of illegality need to be considered, they need to be adjudicated and they need to be considered fairly based on the facts and based on the evidence,” he told KTRK, the ABC affiliate in his hometown of Houston.

In reality, those claims have been adjudicated to death. Since November, they’ve been rejected as fabrication and fantasy by judges — some appointed by Trump himself — in more than 60 legal cases filed by the president and his allies.

During that same TV appearance, Cruz also tried to distance himself Trump, claiming he didn’t support the president’s irresponsible rhetoric and that he’d disavowed it repeatedly.

“I have disagreed with the president’s language and rhetoric for the last four years and have said so many, many times,” Cruz added.

click to enlarge Firestarter: Ted Cruz’s cynical election gambit helped ignite the Capitol riot
Political calculus

That claim, of course, is laughable.

The two were heated rivals when they both sought the 2016 Republican nomination, but after Trump’s victory, Cruz emerged as one of the president’s chief enablers, a tireless sycophant who never missed a chance to namedrop the commander in chief.

“I’ve worked hand-in-hand with President Trump from the day he’s been elected, and together we’ve accomplished incredible results for the country,” Cruz fawned during one CNN appearance.

To wit, Cruz was parroting Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud well before November rolled around, and during the Capitol riot itself, his office blasted out a fundraising message asking for cash to support his effort to “reject electors from key states.”

That unyielding support is a far cry from Cruz’s 2016 campaign rhetoric, when he at various times labeled Trump “utterly amoral,” a “sniveling coward,” a “pathological liar” and “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.”

What changed?

A frequent critic of what he’s dubbed the “Washington cartel,” Cruz has built his political brand around the role of Tea Party outsider. He sees the support of Trump’s MAGA crowd as essential to his chance of clinching the next Republican presidential nomination.

“It’s clear Cruz is trying to nurture the support of that base for 2024,” Trinity University political scientist David Crockett said.

click to enlarge Firestarter: Ted Cruz’s cynical election gambit helped ignite the Capitol riot
Dangerous ambition

To those who have followed Cruz’s career, it came as little surprise to hear him try to legitimize the president’s bullshit claims of a rigged election.

A former Cruz associate on George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign said it quickly became clear to other campaign staffers that the Harvard-educated lawyer would say anything, do anything or manipulate anyone to further his own political ambitions.

“In every office there is that guy that everyone talks about behind his back because he is so full of himself and treats people so poorly — the guy no one wants to end up alone with in a conference room or elevator because his conversation is so uncomfortable,” said the former staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “On the 2000 Bush campaign, that guy was Ted Cruz.”

While Cruz’s time with the campaign did land him a job in Washington, the animosity he generated from fellow staffers ensured it wasn’t a post in the Bush White House but in the “bureaucratic backwater” of the Federal Trade Commission, Politico reports.

“The point is he didn’t learn,” Cruz’s former campaign coworker said of the snub.

Indeed, Cruz’s willingness to join fellow Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, and do Trump’s seditious bidding is more proof of an inability to grasp that his unbridled pursuit of power is damaging both to himself as well as the country.

click to enlarge Firestarter: Ted Cruz’s cynical election gambit helped ignite the Capitol riot
Coming to terms

Cruz is no idiot. Even his detractors admit he’s a calculating strategist with a sharp legal mind.

While the senator may not have intended his tireless attempts to delegitimize the election to inspire a coup attempt, he’s savvy enough to have known that bloodshed and unrest were potential outcomes.

During the 2016 campaign, Cruz appeared to be well aware of then-candidate Trump’s powder keg rhetoric. During an appearance on right-wing commentator Glenn Beck’s show, Cruz decried his rival’s “consistent pattern of inciting violence.”

In the wake of last week’s insurrection, former Cruz associates have called out their former boss for his culpability. In a statement last week, Chad Sweet — Cruz’s former campaign chair — said the senator “aided and abetted” Trump’s “relentless assault” on U.S. democracy.

“I can surmise [Cruz] thinks he’s a very smart lawyer who can parse his way out of this,” Amanda Carpenter, a former communications director for Cruz told CNN. However, she added, “He has to come to terms with the fact that he, through his actions, played directly into the hands of the mob. … And it is so horrifying to watch someone descend into this and not be able to admit what happened.”

But history shows the odds are against Cruz stepping down, much less admitting his hand in the tragedy. He’s long relished his role of hated disruptor. After all, this is the guy who shut down the entire U.S. government to make a point about Obamacare — a move then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called “a toddler’s version of legislating.”

Still, observers say the bloodstains from the Capitol riot will be damn near impossible for Cruz to wash from his hands. Even before the election gambit blew up in his face, Cruz wasn’t a shoo-in to another senate term. In 2018, he only beat Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by a 50.9-to-48.3 margin, making it Texas’ closest U.S. Senate race since 1978.

“If you look back at recent Texas election results, it’s people like Cruz and [Texas Attorney General] Ken Paxton who have barely won reelection,” Trinity’s Crockett said. “The lesson there to Republicans is that if you’re going to be a firebreather, that’s less and less a path to power.”

Last week’s coup attempt is leading some who voted for Trump for his economic agenda and law-and-order messaging to think hard about the Faustian bargain they made when they pulled the lever. After last week’s tragic spectacle, an increasing number now grasp the threat he represents to the Republic.

It’s time for Texas voters to take a similar inward look and ask how the hell they ever could have supported a cowardly, self-serving seditionist named Ted Cruz.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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