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Ted Cruz and the Politics of Groveling
Plus: Happy Birthday to The Bulwark!
Some personal news: It’s our birthday.
We launched the Bulwark as a full-news/opinion site three years ago this morning, on January 7, 2019. Since we really should measure this era in dog years — that makes us 21 years old today.
Here’s what our first day looked like:
To be honest, we had no idea what a wild ride it would be, or what the Bulwark would become. In the beginning, we simply wanted to plant a flag and try (in a small way) to fill the gap caused by the abrupt murder of the Weekly Standard two weeks earlier. We couldn’t be sure that we’d last more than three months.
Tens of millions of downloads later, we’re still here, and still telling you what we think. We’ve assembled a group of writers and contributors that we could hardly have dreamed of back then. And we are immensely grateful for the support of our listeners and readers along the way.
So what have we been up to? It may surprise you. Here were the 10 most-read stories in the first three years of the Bulwark, based on Google analytics:
An Open Letter to Megan Rapinoe, from America, by Joel Engel
A Message to Democrats from Your New Ally, by Stuart Stevens
Trump’s New Ad Is Amazing, by Jonathan V. Last
The Missouri Gun-Toting Lawyers Are Screwed, by Jim Swift
We Cannot “Reopen” America, by Jonathan V. Last
Trump’s Farewell Address, by James Carville
My Call With Ron Johnson: He Knows Biden Won But Won’t Admit It, by Mark Becker
A Crusade for Something Noble, by James Carville
The Weirdest 90 Seconds in Presidential History, by Tim Miller
Ted Grovels. Again.
This is not the first time that Ted Cruz has groveled. You will undoubtedly recall his surrender back in 2016… after Trump had mocked his wife… after Cruz called Trump a pathological liar… after he was booed off the stage at the GOP convention for telling delegates they should vote their conscience.
But, as our colleague Hannah Yoest pointed out, all of that pales in comparison to last night’s performance.
In the Age of Trump, politicians are supposed to project strength. They are supposed to fight — and never admit error, or ever, ever say they are sorry for anything. But those rules appear not to apply to the junior senator from Texas.
Called before the Throne of Tucker, he apologized, and then apologized harder, then tweeted out his humiliation.
Cruz begged forgiveness for calling the January 6 insurrection a “violent terrorist attack.” In his self-flagellation, he called the comments “sloppy and frankly dumb.”
It did not go well.
After saying he contacted Carlson the night before to ask to come on and tell his side, Cruz then claim the way he phrased his words “was sloppy and frankly dumb.” Carlson, however, was having none of it.
“I don’t buy that,” the Fox star interjected. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! I’ve known you a long time since before you went to the Senate. You were a Supreme Court contender. You take words as seriously as any man who’s served in the Senate. And every word—you repeated that phrase, I do not believe that you used that accidentally. I just don’t!”
“Tucker, as a result of my sloppy phrasing it’s caused a lot of people to misunderstand what I meant. Let me tell you what I meant to say,” Cruz implored. “What I was referring to are the limited number of people who engaged in violent attacks against police officers. I think you and I both agree that if you assault a police officer, you should go to jail. That is who I was talking about.”
Again saying his “phrasing was sloppy,” Cruz insisted he “wasn’t saying the thousands of peaceful protesters supporting Donald Trump are somehow terrorists.” Carlson, though, remained unconvinced.
“Hold on, what you just said doesn’t even make sense,” the primetime host replied. “If someone assaults a cop, he should go to jail, I couldn’t agree more. We’ve said that for years. But that person is still not a terrorist. How many people of been charged with terrorism on January 6? Like, why did you use that word? You’re playing into the other side’s characterization!”
Cruz maintained that for over a decade, he had used the word “terrorist” to describe people who had violently assaulted police officers. At the same time, he attempted to appeal to Carlson’s ego.
“That being said, Tucker, I agree with you, it was a mistake to say that yesterday and the reason is what you just said,” the former presidential candidate said. “We have now had a year of Democrats and the media twisting words and trying to say that all of us are terrorists. Trying to say you are a terrorist, I am a terrorist.”
It actually gets worse, especially when you consider that Cruz’s comments about terrorism were not off-the-cuff, or random remarks. As Aaron Blake notes, Cruz had used the same language on numerous occasions. “He did so the very next day -- “a despicable act of terrorism" — and in a January 8 tweet. He did so in a local news interview published January 8, as well. Even more than four months after the riot, while voting against the creation of a bipartisan January 6 commission, Cruz was still using that word.”
Carlson was not in a forgiving mood.
Cruz went on to say that he understood “why people were angry” with his comments, claiming that it was within the context of the “corrupt corporate media” taking aim at “anyone who objected to election fraud” over the past year.
“Wait, wait, wait, can I just ask, I guess I just don’t believe you! And I mean that with respect, because I have such respect for your acuity and your precision,” said Carlson, alongside an on-air graphic blaring “Cruz'ing For A Bruising.”
“I’ve seen it on display, I’ve covered you as a reporter, I know how you speak. And you have sat there for a year and watched people use language to distort the events of that day intentionally. Insurrection, coup, terrorism!”
So the former presidential candidate groveled harder, backing off the words he used, apologizing for providing grist for the leftwingcorporatemedia.
And then took to Twitter to continue groveling.
It was, in short, a display of performative sycophancy that would have made even Lindsey Graham blush.
In that sense, it was an iconic moment of the politics of Trumpist self-humiliation, which we have seen so often.
But, it is still amazing.
These are United States senators. They are powerful men. And even if they were not, one might expect at least a modicum of self respect. A residual sense of personal pride. A trace of dignity, that might lead them to draw a line they would not cross.
Speaking of Tucker…
For the last several months, Tucker Carlson has been arguing that the effort to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory, which culminated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, was “a setup,” a trap set for ordinary patriots by shadowy forces in the government….
The gravity of Carlson’s charges and the size of his platform and influence justify a detailed examination of his claims, and of the evidence he provides in support of them.
That examination shows Carlson makes alarming claims that are built on flimsy or inaccurate evidence, or does not consider information that contradicts his narrative. Ultimately, he uses legitimate concerns — about FBI abuses of power in the past, about the ability of the government to conduct digital surveillance, and about treatment of prisoners — to weave a story about Jan. 6 that ends up making claims that aren’t supported by facts.
1. Jan. 6th Anniversary: What Now?
2. What Sean Hannity’s Texts Tell Us
Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the hackery and the hypocrisy.
Yes, Sean Hannity’s text messages, newly released by the House’s Jan. 6 committee, raise serious questions of media ethics, and yes, there are obvious conflicts of interest in the Fox News host acting as a political adviser to the embattled Trump White House.
But the messages published Tuesday tell us another story, as well: In the days before and after Jan. 6, even one of former President Donald Trump’s most slavishly loyalist flaks recognized his madness, lies and danger.
3. The Last Time We Had an Insurrectionist President
Since he left office, former President Donald Trump has not receded into quiet retirement as most of his predecessors did. The activity and boisterousness with which he has continued to champion the Big Lie with which he incited the Jan. 6th insurrection bears comparison to only one other ex-president—one who also became president under a cloud of uncertainty, ignited calls for impeachment, alienated many both in opposition and within his own party, failed to win re-election, and fell into post-presidential ignominy: the tenth president, John Tyler….
Tyler’s retirement years have not been the source of much scholarly interest. But given his role in the secession of Virginia and his support for the Confederacy, Tyler’s role as a seditious former president is worth another look.
4. What Didn’t Happen After January 6
It’s hard to overstate just how significant an opportunity January 6 initially represented for Democrats: Donald Trump’s anti-democratic movement had, in violent and grotesque fashion, paraded its true colors in front of the nation and the world. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Republican party shed 12 points in favorability among its own voters while Democrats made a 7-point gain with independents. A disgraced Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook, his loudest megaphones. Even some of Trump’s most ardent and vocal propagandists from Fox News acknowledged in private that the president had crossed a serious line. Democrats were handed a chance to win over the middle of the country.
Instead, the biggest recruitment story in the aftermath of the insurrection was the far-left trying to recruit candidates to knock off a fellow Democrat.
5. January 6 Changed How the World Sees America
The United States isn’t going to regain its standing as an exemplary democracy any time soon. Even if global perceptions stabilize over the next few years, the specter of Trump’s return to the biggest stage in American politics will remain ever-present—refusing to convict him for his role in fomenting the insurrection was one thing, but what if the GOP rewards him with another presidential nomination? What effect will the widespread acquiescence in (and the active propagation of) his lies about the 2020 election have on the Republican party’s commitment to American democracy? How certain can America’s allies (or enemies) be that Trumpism won’t continue to dominate the Republican party even long after Trump has gone?