When reports surfaced last week that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) may face criminal charges as part of a federal corruption probe, it seemed like a possible opportunity for Republicans. Because so many of the recent political scandals have involved GOP officials, I thought Republicans might connect Menendez and Oregon's John Kitzhaber to make the case there's something rotten in the Democratic ranks.
But Kasie Hunt reported from Iowa over the weekend that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has a very different attack in mind.
Cruz also suggested pending federal charges against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez were politically motivated -- tied to Menendez's support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition to a U.S. deal with Iran over their nuclear program. "The timing is curious," Cruz said.... "It raises a suggestion to other Democrats that if you dare part from the Obama White House, that criminal prosecutions will be used potentially as a political weapon as well," Cruz said. "That's a serious concern."
The Texas Republican added, "This investigation has been going on for over a year and yet the very week they announce a pending indictment comes within hours after Sen. Menendez showing courage to speak out against President Obama's dangerous foreign policy that is risking the national security of this country."
Greg Sargent noted the other day that he was planning to joke about the right concocting a conspiracy theory involving Menendez, the White House, and Iran, but the mockery was already too late. "They're already saying," Greg said.
Satire is tough when some politicians become caricatures of themselves.
In case it's not obvious, there's literally nothing to substantiate the conspiracy theory. The investigation into Menendez's actions began long before the recent debate over U.S. policy towards Iran. For that matter, though Cruz has accused the Justice Department of "announcing a pending indictment," in reality, there has been no such announcement.
What's more, there's no real reason for the Obama administration to even consider such a brazen abuse of federal law enforcement -- Menendez disagrees with the White House on Iranian diplomacy, but the New Jersey Democrat is already giving the administration the time it needs to see the process through.
Even as an electoral matter, Cruz's conspiracy theory is hard to take seriously. The president and Menendez clearly aren't on the same page when it comes to Iran, but on the vast majority of issues, the senator and Obama agree. Why in the world would the White House try to cut off a fellow Democrat at the knees? Especially given the fact that if Menendez goes, Gov. Chris Christie (R) would appoint a temporary Republican replacement?
But it's the bigger picture that's especially alarming. When it comes to political rhetoric and unhinged theorizing, we generally like to think of a separation between the extremes and the mainstream. A party's activist base may make wild claims, but as a rule, those in positions of power and authority are supposed to be more responsible.
In the Menendez case, it stood to reason that far-right voices in talk radio and conservative blogs might casually raise the specter of a conspiracy, but Ted Cruz is a senator. More is expected of him.
The line between the Republican base and prominent Republican officials has blurred in recent years. Too often, it seems Cruz is eager to erase it altogether.