At an event over the weekend, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was asked about last week’s Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality. The right-wing Iowan, not surprisingly, wasn’t pleased, calling the court decisions “the heaviest one-two punch delivered against the Constitution and the American people that we’ve ever seen in the history of this country.”
Of course, Steve King is expected to say things like this. When presidential candidates go over the top in the same way, it’s a little more alarming. MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) went so far as to call for a constitutional convention to overturn the court’s decision while campaigning in Iowa, according to CNN. In an interview with Sean Hannity he called the back-to-back rulings on health care and gay marriage “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.”
Hannity, incidentally, found Cruz’s rhetoric quite compelling, responding, “I couldn’t say it more eloquently.”
For what it’s worth, it’s not hard to think of some genuinely tragic 24-hour periods in American history. The Lincoln assassination comes to mind. So does the time British troops burned the White House. There were days during the Civil War in which tens of thousands of Americans died on the battlefield. Just in the last century, we witnessed the JFK assassination, Pearl Harbor, and a corrupt president resign in disgrace.
For the Republican presidential hopeful, learning that Americans will have health benefits and loving couples will get married belongs on the same list.
To be sure, while much of the country will probably find that odd, it’s equally important to appreciate what Cruz intends to do with his outrage.
On the Affordable Care Act, the Texas senator will, naturally, continue to push a pointless repeal crusade. On marriage rights, Cruz intends to “focus on defending religious liberty by protecting those who act on their conscience and appointing judges who understand the limits placed on them by the Constitution.”
But it’s the Republican’s plans for the high court itself that stand out. The Huffington Post reported:
To challenge that “judicial activism,” Cruz said he is proposing a constitutional amendment to require Supreme Court justices to face retention elections every eight years. […]Under Cruz’s proposed amendment, justices would have to be approved by a majority of American voters as well as by the majority of voters in least half of the states. If they failed to reach the required approval rating, they would be removed from office and barred from serving on the Supreme Court in the future.
Soon after, the senator said he “absolutely” believes county clerks in Texas should freely refuse marriage licenses to couples who wish to marry, the Supreme Court’s ruling be damned.
As ridiculous as Cruz’s posturing seems, it’s important to remember the broader context: national GOP candidates have a built-in incentive to be as hysterical as possible right now, in the hopes of currying favor with the party’s base. Mild, reasoned disappointment with the court doesn’t impress far-right activists; unrestrained, hair-on-fire apoplexy does.
Ted Cruz appears to understand this dynamic all too well.