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Ted Cruz picks the wrong fight with bonkers ‘terrorist’ rhetoric

If Ted Cruz really wants to have a conversation about the debt ceiling crisis and “terrorist” tactics, he might not like where the discussion ends up.


Imagine you’re watching a ham-handed action movie in which a group of dangerous radicals invade the home of an innocent family. The radicals point a gun at some of the homeowner’s loved ones and say, “Meet our outlandish demands or we’ll shoot.”

Moments later, you see the homeowner, scared but steadfast, telling the on-screen antagonists, “No, I’ll give you nothing.”

At that point, the radicals, frustrated but determined to get a ransom, respond to the homeowner, “You’re behaving like a terrorist.”

For many of us, that’d be about the time to give up on the absurd film, since the plot would simply be too bizarre to believe. But for the junior U.S. senator from the state of Texas, the poorly written radicals in the story might have a point. Rolling Stone noted yesterday:

As a battle over the debt ceiling looms large in Washington, Sen. Ted Cruz said that President Joe Biden is “behaving like a terrorist” by not negotiating with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

No, really, that’s what he said.

While appearing on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” Cruz told Maria Bartiromo he has "some advice” for the Democratic president. As the senator put it, Biden participated in debt ceiling talks in 2011, so he should do so again now.

“That Joe Biden from 2011 needs to come back, not the guy they got right now locked in the basement and a White House that’s being run by 25-year-old radicals who figure, ‘Heck, just let it all default, what do we care?’ These are little Marxists with no experience in the real world,” Cruz said. “We need to bring back the Joe Biden who’s done this before, not the one who is behaving like a terrorist, which is what Biden is doing right now.”

So, a few things.

For now, let’s ignore the senator’s juvenile nonsense about basements and “little Marxists,” which was so unserious, it made Cruz look worse than his intended targets. Instead, let’s focus on the more substantive points the far-right lawmaker was trying to make.

The first is that Biden, during his tenure as vice president, participated in debt ceiling talks. That’s true, he did. But Biden also learned from that experience that such talks don’t actually lead to worthwhile and constructive results, which is one of the reasons he’s opposed to making the same mistake twice.

The second was Cruz’s contention that the president is “behaving like a terrorist,” which is so hopelessly insane that it was unsettling to see the senator deliver the line with a straight face.

If the rhetoric sounds at all familiar, it’s because there was some related talk during the Obama era, the last time Republicans used the debt ceiling to threaten to harm Americans on purpose. One senior White House aide said in 2013 that the Democratic administration was open to compromise, but “what we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest.”

Two years earlier, then-Vice President Biden spoke at some length with House Democrats, and while there was no transcript or recording of the behind-closed-doors discussion, reports from the time said Biden concluded that Republicans “have acted like terrorists.”

At the time, GOP officials bristled in response to such rhetoric. They wanted to threaten the public, and they were comfortable touting the value of taking American “hostages,” but Republicans balked at the idea that they had anything in common with terrorists.

A decade later, some far-right officials, including Cruz, apparently believe that they can strip the relevant words of their plain meaning. To hear these Republicans tell it, the heroes of our ongoing drama are those threatening to impose an economic catastrophe unless their ridiculous demands are met, and those being told to pay the ransom are “behaving like a terrorist.”

Or put another way, Cruz, convinced that many voters will believe garbage talking points, no matter how outlandish, is pitching a painfully dumb plot. It’s desperately in need of a re-write.