Sen. Ted Cruz made a political mistake last week by accidentally telling the truth. As the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack approached, the Texas Republican described the assault as "a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol," which many on the right deemed wholly unacceptable.
And so, the chastened senator scurried to Fox News' Tucker Carlson, said he'd used "dumb" phrasing — despite the fact that he'd used nearly identical phrasing several times — and effectively begged for forgiveness. It was pitiful to see Cruz groveling, but the GOP lawmaker apparently saw it as a key to his political future.
For his part, Carlson was unmoved, suggesting the senator would need to go further to satisfy the far-right observers whom he'd disappointed.
Yesterday, as The Washington Post noted, Cruz did exactly that.
Here's how Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) pressed the case in a hearing Tuesday afternoon, asking questions of an FBI representative. "Who is Ray Epps?" Cruz asked.... "There are a lot of people who are understandably very concerned about Mr. Epps," Cruz replied, echoing his I'm-the-voice-of-a-concerned-public argument that he used as rationalization for his effort to block the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6 itself.
In some far-right circles, there's a conspiracy theory that the FBI was somehow responsible for the Jan. 6 attack, and a man named Ray Epps was part of the scheme, working with federal law enforcement and helping direct the violence. The conspiracy theory has been considered, examined, and discredited.
In fact, in a lengthy Twitter thread, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 committee, took the conspiracy theory apart yesterday. "Sorry crazies, it ain't true," the GOP congressman concluded.
Nevertheless, the theory has become a favorite of some of Congress' most fringe members, including Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and Thomas Massie of Kentucky.
Yesterday, they were joined by Cruz, who proceeded to peddle the bogus ideas on Fox News last night.
It's possible, of course, that the Texas senator is sincerely interested in the strange theory and simply doesn't believe the evidence that has debunked the claims. But given the circumstances, it seems more likely that Cruz is still desperate to work his way back into the right's good graces after last week's setback.
In other words, the Republican felt the need to make amends — so he embraced one of their favorite conspiracy theories. Sure, this aligned Cruz with some of his party's most clownish members, but for the ambitious Texan, that's a small price to pay.
As the senator eyes another bid for national office — he effectively presented himself as a future frontrunner a couple of weeks ago — Cruz doesn't want to lead conservatives; he wants to be led by conservatives. His goal is not to appear strong; his goal is apparently to tell the right he'll say and do whatever they want.
What's more, this might very well be an effective strategy. Alex Jones told his audience yesterday that the senator "did a good job today in the hearing, bringing up Ray Epps and Jan. 6."
It's no doubt what Cruz wanted to hear.