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Ted Cruz’s Humiliation Isn’t the Worst Part

Tucker “Patriot Purge” Carlson and the deeper meaning of their clash over Jan. 6th terminology.
January 10, 2022
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) leaves after a news conference at the U.S. Capitol October 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

By now, you’ve heard about the clip of Ted Cruz groveling for Tucker Carlson’s approval on Fox News. 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.

At issue is Cruz’s use of the phrase “violent terrorist attack” when talking about Jan. 6th protesters who assaulted police. For this, last Thursday Carlson accused Cruz of “repeating the talking points Merrick Garland has prepared.” Burn. Lord knows, the worst thing a potential 2024 GOP presidential contender could do is be on message with the Biden administration about Jan. 6th.

It’s worth remembering that when Cruz was coming up in Republican politics, being tough on crime was a good message. He likely clings to the notion that the typical GOP voter wants to “back the blue” and that a successful politician should be consistent in denouncing criminals on the left and the right.

Hah.

That’s just not true of Carlson’s Trump-obsessed, conspiracy-driven viewers. And the fact that Carlson created a three-part series titled “Patriot Purge” that describes Jan. 6th as a government “setup” and jailed rioters as “political prisoners” should have been a clue.

Carlson said the attack could be called a “riot” but “it was not a violent terrorist attack. Sorry.”

He went on:

So why are you telling us that it was, Ted Cruz? And why are none of your Republican friends who are supposed to be representing us and all the people have been arrested during this purge saying anything? What the hell’s going on here?

You’re making us think maybe the Republican Party is as worthless as we suspected it was. That can’t be true. Reassure us, please. Ted Cruz?

Cruz decided to come on Carlson’s broadcast the next evening, so he could help make clear how eager he is to represent the people arrested during the “purge.”

Right out of the gate, Cruz was all concessions and backpedaling. His phrasing, he said, was “sloppy” and “dumb,” and he claimed that he only meant the word “terrorist” to refer to “the limited number of people who engaged in violent attacks against police officers.”

I’ve drawn a distinction. I wasn’t saying that the thousands of peaceful protesters supporting Donald Trump are somehow terrorists. I wasn’t saying the millions of patriots across the country supporting President Trump are terrorists, and that’s what a lot of people have misunderstood.

He thought that distinction would be acceptable.

Nope.

“If somebody assaults a cop, he should be charged and go to jail. I couldn’t agree more,” Carlson said. “We have said that for years. But that person is still not a terrorist.”

At this point, Cruz could have pointed out that terrorism is by definition is politically motivated violence. Instead, he tried to give the impression that his word choice was an accident. A ridiculous notion because Cruz used it more than a dozen times in various interviews and statements over the past year. Did he think people wouldn’t bother to google that?

One has to ask why the Ivy League educated Supreme Court lawyer didn’t stand his ground and defend himself. Rather, Cruz shifted into bargaining mode. He wanted Carlson to know that there was no daylight between himself and the mob:

Let me also make a quick point, Tucker, remember, while thousands of people were standing up to defend this country on January 6th, at that exact moment, I was standing on the Senate floor objecting to the election results, demanding that we empanel an election commission to consider evidence of voter fraud and I brought together eleven senators to join me in supporting getting to the bottom of that.

So of course, it would be ridiculous for me to be saying that the people standing up and protesting to follow the law were somehow terrorists. I was talking about people who commit violence against cops, and you and I both agree, if you commit violence against cops, you should go to jail.

Cruz isn’t a terrorist, he’s you. 


Here is where the real takeaway from the entire exchange comes into play and Cruz finally finds the right MAGA footing.

“Yes, but you’re not a terrorist,” Carlson said, referring again to the Jan. 6th rioters. “You know, you’re not. You’re a guy who assaults a cop.”

Cruz replied:

For a decade I’ve used that word [“terrorist”] for people that violently assault cops. I used that word all in 2020 for the Antifa and BLM terrorists that assaulted cops and firebombed police cars. But I agree, it was a mistake to use the word yesterday because the Democrats and the corporate media have so politicized it. They’re trying to paint everyone as a terrorist and it’s a lie.

See what happened there? Cruz says it’s okay to call violent left-wing protesters “terrorists” when they assault cops, but understands now why he can’t call violent right-wing protesters “terrorists” when they assault cops.

Because of “politicization.”

We have a very real, recent application as to how these politics play out. Their thugs bad. Our thugs good.

For the left wing: Tear gas and troops clearing Lafayette Square with threats of ten years in prison for defacing federal property. For the right wing: “Go home. We love you. You’re very special.

So while I understand the urge to dunk on Cruz, what happened on Carlson’s show is more than just an example of Cruz’s weaselly pleading being worthy of a laugh. It’s ultimately not funny at all.

Cruz once strove to convey that he cared about justice and truth. He used to believe that violence was violence, and that the rule of law (and the rules of language) should be equally applied.

That’s no longer the case. What he did on Jan. 6th himself last year and what he said on Carlson’s show last week goes far beyond pandering.

Cruz’s humiliation is hardly the point. His radicalization is far more frightening.

CORRECTION (1/10/22 9:44 AM): An earlier version of this article incorrectly suggested Ted Cruz attended Yale. He attended Princeton and Harvard.

Amanda Carpenter

Bulwark political columnist Amanda Carpenter is a CNN contributor, author, and former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz and speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint.