Cruz called Trump’s fraud claims ‘reckless.’ Now he promises his own evidence.

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Among the many Republicans who walked a fine line on Donald Trump’s voter-fraud claims after the 2020 election, perhaps no one walked a finer one than Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.).

He offered to argue Trump’s case before the Supreme Court, and even spearheaded the ill-fated challenge to the election results, during Congress’s certification of Biden’s win, that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection. All the while, though, Cruz — like many — avoided engaging in detail on the current evidence of purported fraud. He instead pitched his effort in a just-asking-questions style that feeds baseless suspicions while allowing some plausible deniability.

And when the whole thing blew up on Jan. 6, Cruz exercised that deniability: He called Trump’s voter-fraud claims “reckless” and “irresponsible” and “way too far over the line” — despite having offered to argue Trump’s case — and even said Trump “plainly bears some responsibility” because of his “angry rhetoric.”

Cruz, like virtually everyone in his party who dared to criticize Trump after that infamous day, has since backed off that posture. And now he’s coming out with a book this week that he’s pitching as “the first inside account of what happened on January 6th.”

Among the book’s focal points, according to Cruz’s interview on Fox News on Sunday night? “I take them through the evidence of election fraud and voter fraud in November 2020, which the Democrats and the corporate media insists doesn’t exist,” Cruz said.

The resulting text should be extremely telling — both when it comes to the dearth of current evidence and for Cruz’s and the GOP’s ultraconvenient post-Jan. 6 conversion.

To be clear, despite sharply criticizing Trump after Jan. 6, Cruz continued to cling to the notion that significant voter fraud took place, even if Trump’s particular allegations were fake. And it’s at least theoretically possible that he could provide a sober-minded review of the evidence, such as it exists.

Much more likely, it seems, is that Cruz will provide just enough smoke to appeal to the many Republicans who continue to harbor baseless doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. This is the price of relevance in today’s Republican Party, and Cruz has shown he’s more than willing to pay it.

When Cruz rallied nearly a dozen GOP senators to object to the election results on Jan. 6, the wording of their statement was extremely careful. It made no reference to current evidence of fraud; it instead cited the allegations and perception of it and the need to reassure people.

It referenced “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud.” It added that “the allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes.” It even cited a poll that showed 39 percent of Americans believed the election was rigged.

Cruz echoed these arguments in his comments on the floor shortly before the insurrection.

Of course, such allegations, perceptions and beliefs flourished in large part because almost nobody in Trump’s party would say in the lead-up to Jan. 6 what Cruz ultimately said in its aftermath: That it was “reckless” and “irresponsible” for Trump to claim the election was “stolen everywhere” and that there was “massive fraud.” Rather than correct him, his party just offered watered-down comments about supposed “irregularities” and state election procedures.

If we’re being charitable, Cruz and his colleagues perhaps thought this effort was doomed and didn’t see “the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time.” They didn’t have to say what Trump was saying; they just wouldn’t contradict him. And soon enough, he’d be gone.

That turned into a fateful decision — fateful for democracy and almost fateful for them personally. And for a brief period after Jan. 6, Cruz and his fellow Republicans seemed to believe this might be their chance to move past Trump — or even that they had to move past him. They could finally call it like it was.

Then things changed. Kevin McCarthy made his pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to atone for his sin of blaming Trump for Jan. 6. Soon, Republicans were pitching Jan. 6 as much ado about nothing — even casting Liz Cheney out of House leadership for having the temerity to continue pressing the issue.

Cruz actually held out longer than some others. For months after Jan. 6, even as some in the conservative movement cast doubt on whether it was an insurrection (it was), he actually went a step further and repeatedly called it a “terrorist” attack. But then Tucker Carlson called him out. On the anniversary of Jan. 6, Cruz appeared on Carlson’s show to take his medicine and assure he would no longer be calling it a terrorist attack.

And if you want a preview of what you’re likely to read about with Cruz’s voter fraud “evidence,” you need only look at what he said Sunday night.

“So if you’re at home talking to people about January 6th, the left uses wildly politicized terms like ‘insurrection,’ which is complete political garbage,” Cruz said. “Anyone who uses that word is engaged in partisan spin.”

The guy who repeatedly called it a terrorist attack is now policing other people’s language. And the guy who called Trump’s claims “reckless” and “irresponsible” is now going to lodge his own evidence of voter fraud — all, apparently, in the service of playing up his efforts to object to the 2020 election results, including when the Jan . 6 riot meant (as Cruz said in Sunday’s interview) that “some senators were getting wobbly.”

It seems unlikely those allegations will go as far as Trump’s did. Cruz probably won’t delve into the theories about voting machines and Antrim County, Mich. But the fact that he’s promoting his book in these terms says plenty about the GOP’s commitment to looking like loyal soldiers in that reckless crusade.

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