Yes, Ted Cruz is a joke. But it's a sick joke

Yes, Ted Cruz is a joke. But it's a sick joke
Ted Cruz // Gage Skidmore

There has never been a time when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas could be held up as admirable. Long before he put himself down as a candidate for president in 2016, Cruz made his name as a serial liar who ran far out on the right wing of social issues, spending his time pandering to the fears of evangelicals, attacking gay marriage, denying the climate crisis, and threatening to invent a new law so he could arrest the producer of Saturday Night Live (and that was before Aidy Bryant began her pitch-perfect imitations).

Still, there was a time when Cruz was taken seriously, at least on the right. In 2014, he made it onto a list of “most admired” Republicans. By that time, Cruz was already engaged in laying the groundwork for his 2016 run, with multiple visits to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. In particular, his anti-LGBTQ stances gave Cruz a strong starting position with evangelical leaders—so strong that Jerry Falwell Jr. required Liberty University students to attend Cruz’s announcement speech or be fined.

When the first contest in Iowa rolled around in 2016, Cruz actually beat Trump. He would go on to win Alaska, Minnesota, Wyoming, Puerto Rico, Idaho, Utah, Wisconsin, Colorado, and his home state of Texas. All of which seems inconceivable now.

Because that Ted Cruz—the Cruz who called Donald Trump a “pathological liar,” “coward,” and “narcissist”; the Cruz who confronted Trump on stage about attacking his wife; the Ted Cruz who seemed to have a legitimate chance of leading the Republican Party … is utterly gone. In his place is a gormless, gutless lump who not only bowed to the man who called his wife ugly, but last week hurried into Fox News for a live humiliation session with Tucker Carlson. It was a session in which Cruz applied lips to Carlson’s butt repeatedly in his effort to make clear that he would never consider having an independent thought.

Watching Cruz wear out his knees before a sneering propagandist who treated him like dirt might provide both amusement and satisfaction, considering Cruz’s statements over the years. But it also is—or should be—frightening.

In the midst of a discussion about the state of democracy on NBC News, historian Ruth Ben-Ghait addressed the willingness of so many Republicans to fall in line behind the Big Lie, despite not only a lack of evidence, but almost unlimited evidence that the claims of election fraud are not true. Ben-Ghait notes that, under Trump, the Republican Party has become a “big tent”—not for diversity, but for extremism. It’s a tent in which extremist ideas are not just welcomed, but built upon and spread, with the authors of those extremist claims becoming the stars of the party. All that’s required is that their lies support Trump.

Trump’s term in office was one in which “through threat and corruption,” and with the assistance of “relentless propagandizing,” he converted the Republican Party into “his personal tool.” That tool could then be leveraged to any purpose Trump desired, including gathering his own personal army on Jan. 6 for an assault on the Capitol.

But the ability to champion any lie, no matter how outrageous, in support of Trump’s cause is just one part of what Ben-Ghait labels “authoritarian leader-cult dynamics” within the Republican Party. Another issue is how those who worry that they might find themselves outside the tent are willing to do anything in order to secure that place next to the throne.

After reviewing some of Cruz’s performance on Carlson’s show, Ben-Ghait had this to say:

“A lot of people laughed at this because they don’t like Cruz, and I don’t like Cruz either. But I view this with dread. Because what this symbolizes is authoritarian party dynamics. Clearly they have a party line, and it’s not just about repeating propaganda, you have to enforce it.
This is what dictators do when someone says something they shouldn’t have said. Gadhafi in Libya … he would have people come on television to recant, to confess their sins. Saddam Hussein did stuff like that. What we’re seeing with Tucker, who made Cruz come on, is the same kind of dynamic.”

As former Cruz assistant Amanda Carpenter wrote for conservative site The Bulwark:

“Every last member of the punditocracy has taken a turn dunking on the Texas senator whom everyone loves to hate.
Hope they enjoyed it. Because once you really understand what Cruz is apologizing for, it’s not all that funny.
The worst part of that interview wasn’t Cruz’s abject humiliation, but his radicalization. And yes, that’s saying something considering that Cruz was one of the leaders of the charge to object to the Electoral College count on January 6, 2021.”

Of particular concern to Carpenter is that in the past year Cruz has thrown away any pretense of supporting law enforcement in order to back the “Patriot Purge” theories promoted by Carlson, theories that insist the Jan. 6 assault was a set-up instigated by the FBI.

To underscore this, Cruz appeared in a Senate hearing on Tuesday in which be pelted Assistant FBI Director Jill Sanborn with questions about “FBI informants” hidden in the ranks of the Jan. 6 insurgents and pressed a conspiracy theory around a man named Ray Epps.

Epps is the 60-year-old owner of The Knotty Barn, a wedding venue in Queen Creek, Arizona. He was filmed asking people to go “peacefully” into the Capitol” on Jan. 5. Somehow, that has placed Epps at the center of a conspiracy theory that says he was an FBI plant who was setting up Trump supporters up to be arrested the next day. The main contention of this claim is that Epps wasn’t arrested because he was “a fed.” The truth seems to be much simpler—Epps wasn’t arrested because, despite what he said on Jan. 5, he doesn’t seem to have entered the Capitol on Jan. 6.

However, not only did Cruz ask questions about Epps during Tuesday’s hearing; those questions are, at the time of this article, being reported as “breaking news” across right-wing media, with treatment that suggests Cruz asking about this conspiracy theory is proof that Epps was indeed some kind of undercover government agent.

That Cruz focused his questioning at the Senate hearing on supporting a conspiracy theory pushed on Carlson’s show isn’t coincidence. It’s an example of how he is taking the groveling from his whipping session on Fox News right back into the Senate chamber.

As Carpenter told CNN, it’s not Cruz’s humiliation that the media should be focusing on, but a level of radicalization that says Republicans do not have to distance themselves from violence. Only Democrats are subject to rebuke. It’s okay to call Black Lives Matter protesters “terrorists,” but right wingers can only be “patriots.”

“How that plays out is that President Trump orders troops and tear gas for people who are in Lafayette Square, but when his side goes to the Capitol, they get really sweet messages about how ‘we love you’ and everyone whitewashes what happened.”

Cruz isn’t simply a beaten cur; he’s emblematic of a Republican Party that steps all over itself to prove loyalty to the authoritarian cult’s leader.

It’s funny. But only in a very disturbing way.

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