Ted Cruz, pilloried by Trump base, now regrets ‘dumb’ comment painting Capitol mob as ‘terrorists’
WASHINGTON — In one of the more remarkable sideshows of the post-Jan. 6 era, Sen. Ted Cruz has been forced into damage control to reassure Trump supporters he doesn’t really view the mob attack at the U.S. Capitol as a “violent terrorist attack” — even though he’s described it that way for a year.
“The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb,” the Texas Republican told Fox News host Tucker Carlson during a testy mea culpa segment Thursday night. “I wasn’t saying the thousands of peaceful protesters supporting Donald Trump are somehow terrorists. I wasn’t saying the millions of patriots across the country supporting Trump are terrorists.”
Cruz’s ambitions to make another run at the presidency could hinge on whether the Trump base forgives him this trespass.
The uproar reflects a running battle over the gravity of the Capitol attack, and the power of terms such as “armed insurrection,” as President Joe Biden called it Thursday.
Cruz did not apologize, instead defending his bona fides as an ally of the Jan. 6 mob – their aims, if not their actions. His misstep, he suggested, wasn’t using the term “terrorism” per se, it was using it on the eve of the anniversary, when Democrats might use it to discredit Trump supporters.
“For a decade, I have referred to people who violently assault police officers as terrorists,” Cruz told Carlson. But “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.”
Carlson, an influential voice in rightwing, pro-Trump media — and himself also a potential 2024 GOP contender — was not eager to let him off the hook for the nuanced explanation.
“What you just said doesn’t make sense,” Carlson said. “If somebody assaults a cop, he should be charged and go to jail… but the person is still not a terrorist.”
“What I was referring to are the limited number of people who engaged in violent attacks against police officers,” Cruz insisted.
Trumpworld did not immediately forgive and forget.
Roger Stone, a longtime GOP operative, blasted Cruz for “pandering,” posting on the Telegram messaging app: “I understand why people take an instantaneous dislike to Ted Cruz when they first meet him – they are only saving time....A BUSH Republican through and through.”
The uproar began Wednesday morning at a hearing on post-Jan. 6 security for Congress. Cruz, questioning the Capitol Police chief, referred to “this anniversary of a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol.”
It was hardly a groundbreaking comment for Cruz. “The attack at the Capitol was a despicable act of terrorism and a shocking assault on our democratic system,” he said hours after police had pushed out the last rioters, in a statement that called for prosecution for acts of violence and defended his own efforts to nullify Biden’s election.
The backlash only hit this week, though.
Cruz found himself pilloried by Trump supporters who hadn’t unleashed this much venom on him since the 2016 GOP convention when, rather than bending a knee to Trump after their bitter primary, he urged delegates to vote their conscience.
“This man is an insult to the word ‘conservative,’” Sebastian Gorka, a former national security aide to Trump, said on the rightwing outlet Newsmax. “I hope Texas tells him — and that man will never, ever be re-elected.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, accusing the senator of trying to recast himself to broaden his appeal, told reporters it won’t work: “The establishment will never love you, Ted.”
At his side at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was another conspiracy-minded Republican, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia, as they tried sought to downplay the attack.
“That was very irresponsible for him to call them terrorists,” Green said, elaborating later on Newsmax. With language that “plays to the left,” she said, “Ted Cruz is calling Americans, calling MAGA patriots, calling people that rioted at the Capitol and did breach the Capitol – he’s calling them terrorists. ...Shame on him. No one was charged with terrorism.”
Cruz fell in line behind Trump before the 2016 election and emerged as a stalwart ally, and in the weeks after the 2020 election he promoted Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the election had been stolen.
Given that, pundits marveled at his perceived need to “grovel” to undo the damage of labeling an attack on the Capitol as an act of terrorism.
“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 impanel election commission to consider evidence of voter fraud, and I brought together 11 senators to join me in getting to the bottom of that,” Cruz said.
“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.”
Cruz led a group of 11 senators who objected to votes in a handful of states that President Joe Biden had won. He demanded an inquiry into purported – and as yet unproven – irregularities. That probe would have delayed affirmation of Biden’s victory, perhaps until after Inauguration Day two weeks later.
The effort to nullify millions of votes fell short, and Congress eventually ratified the tallies that the states had certified, the last step in formalizing the outcome of the election.
More than 700 members of the Jan. 6 mob have been charged with crimes such as trespassing, assault and interfering with Congress. None has been charged with insurrection. (“It wasn’t an insurrection. Saying it’s an insurrection is a political term, it’s a lie. I’ve repeatedly denounced it,” Cruz told Carlson.)
The FBI’s definition of domestic terrorism does jibe with the mob’s actions: “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
Carlson was relentless.
With a chyron on-screen that read “What on earth was Ted Cruz thinking?” Carlson said, asserting that someone as smart as Cruz, whom Trump considered for the Supreme Court, is far too precise with language to shrug off this comment as a casual misstatement.
“You’re playing into the other side’s characterization,” he said.