Dear readers, if you’re anything like me you are forgiven if for a few hours on Wednesday you thought you slipped into an alternate timeline. In remarks opposing the second impeachment (hey, he finally broke a record!) of Donald J Trump, Republican after Republican strode confidently to the microphone in the House chamber and proceeded to weave an intricate web in which the true perpetrators of the division brought upon our nation by Trump and his cauldron of sycophants and sociopaths were not Trump or his co-conspirators in Congress.
No. The folks who were really dividing our nation were the congressional Democrats who survived a full blown insurrection and came out of that dark ordeal resolved to make sure that domestic terrorism wouldn’t be a crime that goes unpunished in the longest living constitutional democracy in the world.
I watched in alternating furor and bemusement as people like Louie Gohmert, who has spewed more vile racist rhetoric than almost anyone in the south save for David Duke, and Jim Jordan, who helped obfuscate and cover up a decades-long pattern of sexual assault while he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State University but was nevertheless awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump this week, fought facts with the strangest fiction you’ve ever seen.
As I watched the second impeachment unfold, I couldn’t help but think of what it took to bring us here. This is not a symptom of our ongoing political ills in this nation, it is the end result of two decades of divisive politics, invented, perfected and deployed to great effect by the GOP, who have been deploying these tactics with reckless abandon since the early 90’s, deploying a twisted type of electoral long division designed not to solve problems but solidify their power.
For dedicated readers of our intrepid publication, you may remember that I was one of the voices calling for Americans not to talk past each other in the wake of the 2020 general election. I had hoped that we would be able to stare the truth in the face as a nation and finally hit the mute button on the disinformation and hate that has triggered deep atrophy in our politics and government.
That, dear readers, was a dumbass idea.
Don’t get me wrong, I deeply believe in the imperative to unify as a country and work our way back to a place where facts matter, especially those that are incontrovertible. But as I watched a president who was resoundingly defeated debase the highest office in our land and repeatedly not mislead but outright lie to his most fervent and faithful supporters, it again reminded me that we aren’t playing by the established rules and norms here.
And I had to watch, with great anger and abiding shame, as Ted Cruz became Trump’s biggest co-conspirator. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you, dear readers, that I have a well established distaste for Cruz, which many of you share. But we need to circle back to our state’s junior senator today because his rise in Republican politics is a microcosm of the slow death of truth in our politics and the decay of the Republican Party.
Cruz, you may recall, rose to prominence in the late aughts while serving as solicitor general for Texas, a position within the Texas Attorney General’s office responsible for arguing on behalf of the state in federal courts up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a self-styled constitutional law expert and principled conservative.
It provided Cruz the perfect launching pad for his future ambitions. Under a similarly ambitious attorney general with eyes on the Governor’s mansion, Cruz frequently found himself writing briefs and appearing in court to argue against anything and everything President Barack Obama did that then-Attorney General Greg Abbott was willing to sue over.
Indeed, Cruz cut his teeth on the national stage by challenging and arguing to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the lone lifeline many Texans had to affordable health insurance. When historians look back on the feverish battle over health care reform during the first Obama administration, they’ll be working their way through a deluge of outright lies and half truths, all supported and promoted by Cruz, that ranged from baseless claims that doctors would stop practicing medicine to the ludicrous claims that death panels would be deciding which sick Americans got treatments and which were left to die.
Cruz was a man that found his moment, as 2010 gave rise to what at the time seemed to be the most far right movement to sweep Republican politics since the McCarthy hearings. In the Tea Party movement of the ‘10’s, Cruz found his base, and sadly proved that timing truly is everything.
Cruz jumped into the 2012 Republican primary for U.S. Senate as a heavy underdog. The front runner, longtime Texas Lt. Gov David Dewhurst, had statewide name recognition and a long track record in public life. In fact, Dewy was essentially straight out of central casting, looking and sounding exactly like you’d expect a Republican U.S. Senator to sound.
Cruz managed to tap into the Tea Party movement, the festering anger and mistrust that its supporters espoused toward the left and even the establishment wing of the Republican Party, proving to be an unscrupulous combatant in the political arena, armed with a growing roster of Tea Party supporters and a million dollars his wife borrowed from her employer, Goldman Sachs, that Cruz unlawfully laundered into his campaign (he would be hit with a $35,000 fine for it in 2019, after his own failed Presidential bid imploded in 2016).
Freshly elected to a six year term, Cruz went directly to work, becoming a ubiquitous presence on right wing TV and radio, never missing an opportunity to run his mouth and burnish his conservative street cred. A few short months into his first term, he found himself one of the ringleaders for a government shutdown that lasted 16 days.
Over his first three years in office, Cruz played every angle to become the heir apparent to the Republican throne, engaging in shameless lies and demagoguery at every turn, until he finally entered the 2016 Repblican primary for president.
Many in Republican circles thought Cruz’s ascent was unstoppable. He had the resume, the name ID and the shamelessness to rise to the top of a crowded primary field that included governors and senators from major states with longer elected track records than his.
That logic got upended when a failed New York City businessman who repeatedly flirted with running for president as a Democrat in the 80’s and a third party candidate in the early 2000’s, slowly rode a gold escalator to the lobby of a tower bearing his name in mid-2015 and lit American politics on fire for the next half decade.
Cruz was alternatingly hapless and helpless as he watched Trump browbeat his opponents and drive them out of the primary one by one, until only Cruz and Trump remained in the fight. Trump never saw an equal in Cruz, only weakness, which he proved repeatedly by calling Cruz a liar on debate stages, insulting his wife in interviews, leaking partially unsubstantiated claims about Cruz having extramarital affairs, and even going so far as to accuse Cruz’s father of being intimately involved in the assasination of President John F. Kennedy.
In the face of this disrespect, Cruz responded like any aggrieved husband would, giving a primetime speech at the 2016 RNC convention that stopped short of fully endorsing Trump, who at the time was widely expected to lose the election to Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s surprise electoral college victory in 2016 did nothing but reaffirm the road ahead for Cruz. Rather than becoming a principled leader of the Republican Party who spoke out when Trump said and did deplorable things with the power bestowed upon him as our country’s chief executive, Cruz boldly turned the other cheek and became his biggest cheerleader.
The more Trump lied, the more Cruz lied. The more incendiary his language got, so it did for Cruz. With the exception of the heated 2018 U.S. Senate campaign in which Beto O’Rourke nearly sent him into retirement, Cruz did very little to tone down his image and reputation as a conservative firebrand.
Like many people in the throes of a cult or criminal enterprise, Cruz just kept sinking deeper into Trump’s inner circle, going so far as to offer his services arguing to invalidate votes cast legally in Pennsylvania before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the moments after the Capitol was stormed shortly after he concluded his remarks on January 6th, Cruz called for an end to the violence, while engaging in Twitter arguments with O’Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who at one point was driven to fear for her life during the deadly insurrection.
Cruz has done nothing but maintain that combative posture in the days since that terrorist insurrection, continually quibbling with AOC over language that she’s used while referring to white supremacists, insurrectionists and domestic terrorists. In fact, Cruz has spent more time arguing over the invocation of the phrase “Nazi” than he has doing anything else.
In fact, Cruz has not tweeted a single call for peace or anti-violence on inauguration day while his lukewarm beef with Ocasio-Cortez has continued unabated. He’s even gone so far as to tweet a statement, from his official Senate account no less, extending his condolences to the Adleson family in the wake of the death of Sheldon Adleson, the GOP mega donor who once threw millions of dollars behind Cruz in an effort to stop the ascension of Donald Trump.
Why would a sitting United States Senator use the resources of his office to extend his condolences to the Adleson family while simultaneously keeping his fight with AOC alight?
Because Cruz only cares about one thing: the next election. Running for President costs hard dollars, and Cruz sparring with AOC is no different than his offer of condolences to the Adleson family. It’s just another pawn on his chess board, another move to fill his war chest with cash as he contemplates life after Trump.
Cruz placating his grassroots donors by starting a sham debate with Ocasio-Cortez is no different than placating the universe of well heeled Republican donors who followed Adleson’s cues. It’s designed to do nothing more than ingratiate himself to a source of funding that has become increasingly important as more companies pledge not to donate to Cruz for his participation in the insurrection.
And so we find ourselves, over a decade since Cruz launched himself into the limelight, and we’ve watched in real time as this supposed principled conservative morphed into snake oil salesman with the body of an elephant and the head of jackass, his ascent running on a parallel track to the debasement of Republican orthodoxy.
Ted Cruz will never resign, nor will he ever admit Trump’s complicity in inciting a riot that led to police officers being beat to death in the building he goes to work in every day. To do that, Cruz would need to possess more shame than ambition, and there is no evidence that suggests he’s capable of feeling shame, much less doing anything about it.
Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.