Donald Trump’s coup attempt on January 6, 2021 and in the months leading up to it was not an individual effort by Trump. It was a broader Republican coup attempt, as a look at Sen. Ted Cruz’s role underscores.
A Washington Post investigation into how Cruz worked to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s win and give Republican state legislatures a chance to overturn their states’ results shows how Cruz’s own presidential ambitions got him on board with Trump’s coup plotting in a way that cost him longtime allies and a mentor. But Cruz knew what he was doing and why he was doing it.
Trump called Cruz on December 8, 2020, to ask him to argue a lawsuit trying to overturn the election before the Supreme Court, and Cruz agreed. Cruz never got that chance, because the Supreme Court slapped down multiple such lawsuits. But in addition to pledging to argue what would have been his tenth case before the court, Cruz helped Team Trump chart the January 6 plan for members of Congress to try to overturn the election from within the Capitol.
Cruz, it turns out, is a longtime friend of John Eastman, the right-wing lawyer who pushed the idea that Mike Pence could refuse to certify the election. The two clerked together for then-U.S. Appeals Court Judge Michael Luttig—who Cruz has described as being “like a father to me”—and remained friends, to whatever extent Cruz has friends. Eastman’s plan for Pence and Cruz’s plan for the Senate worked together, with Eastman telling Pence he had the right to refuse to certify and Cruz offering up a proposal for senators to object to certifying state election results in favor of a 10-day delay for an “audit”—in translation, a chance for Republican state legislatures to find excuses to reject the will of the voters and throw their states behind Trump. At the same time, Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, in concert with the White House, was trying to get the acting attorney general to urge state legislatures to do just that. And let’s not forget that the wife of a Supreme Court justice was texting the White House chief of staff about the lawsuits trying to overturn the election.
Trump’s effort to stay in power despite a resounding electoral loss, in other words, wasn’t just Trump individually being a sore loser. It didn’t just involve his staff. It was threaded throughout the Republican Party, involving not just outside lawyers like Eastman but high-profile senators like Cruz.
And Cruz was so committed to the effort that he endangered his relationships with supporters, staff, and allies who weren’t willing to get on board with the coup effort. His communications director resigned after January 6, having unsuccessfully pleaded with Cruz, after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, to stop objecting to the certification of the election. The chair of Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign told Cruz ahead of January 6 that he could not continue his support if Cruz objected to the certification, writing later, “Donald Trump and those who aided and abetted him in his relentless undermining of our Democracy — including Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz — must be denounced.” Luttig, the judge who Cruz had described as “like a father,” said, “Such is Republican politics of the moment, that presidential and congressional aspirants will purchase the former president’s blessing and approval at any price.”
There were and are voices within the Republican Party opposing Trump’s coup attempt. But for ambitious senators like Cruz and Hawley, the path to power is clear, and it involves supporting Trump’s lies about the 2020 elections, to the point of supporting a coup attempt. It is past time for the select committee investigating January 6 to commit to really investigating the role of members of Congress in the events of that day.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.