In his novel "1984," George Orwell wrote a memorable paragraph about a character who succumbed to party pressure: "He became simply a mouth that uttered, a hand that signed, whatever was demanded of him. His sole concern was to find out what they wanted him to confess, and then confess it quickly, before the bullying started anew."
Ted Cruz on Thursday walked back his use of the word "terrorist" when describing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol during an intense back and forth with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who repeatedly questioned the validity of the Republican senator's explanation. Cruz was lambasted during Carlson's Wednesday night show for describing Jan. 6 as "a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol." During his Thursday night appearance, when Carlson asked him why he used the word "terrorist," Cruz brushed off his previous phrasing as "sloppy" and "frankly dumb."
Let's back up to review how we arrived at this point.
A couple of days ago, the Texas Republican described the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol as a "violent terrorist attack." This didn't seem especially notable — Cruz has used nearly identical phrasing before — and the choice of words is clearly defensible.
After all, as Politico's report added, the FBI defines domestic terrorism as "violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature."
The senator nevertheless faced a swift and fierce backlash from the right, which clearly got Cruz's attention.
And so, the GOP lawmaker scurried to Fox News to apologize, telling Tucker Carlson — one of the far-right voices who was especially aggressive in condemning Cruz's rhetoric a day earlier — how sorry he was for accidentally telling the truth in a way that hurt conservatives' feelings.
The crux of the senator's pitch was that he only meant to call those who attacked police officers as "terrorists," which led Carlson to explain those who attack police officers deserve to be prosecuted as criminals, but that doesn't mean they've necessarily engaged in terrorism.
The interview was difficult to watch — the host concluded by saying he simply didn't believe the senator's pitiful explanation — but Cruz nevertheless promoted the segment via social media. "Yesterday, I used a dumb choice of words and unfortunately a lot of people are misunderstanding what I meant," he wrote in a groveling tweet.
It's no secret that Cruz, the runner-up in the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination, intends to run for national office again. He effectively presented himself as a future frontrunner a couple of weeks ago. To that end, it may seem understandable that the Texan rushed to put out a political fire he started, assuring far-right activists that they should still see him as an ally.
But in the process, Cruz also signaled unmistakable weakness. Last night, he effectively played the role of a regretful puppy, rolling over and showing Carlson his belly.
The Republican senator has never been recognized as a man with great self-respect — Cruz did, after all, adopt a sycophantic posture toward Donald Trump even after the former president went after the senator's wife and father — but this was simply embarrassing.
Just as notable, as part of his defense, Cruz reminded Carlson last night that he played a prominent role after the 2020 presidential election in trying to reject the results, including being one of only eight GOP senators to vote against certifying President Joe Biden's victory. "While thousands of people were standing up to defend this country on January 6," Cruz reminded the Fox News host, "I was standing on the Senate floor, objecting to the election results."
That's true, but it makes the story worse. A year ago at this time, Cruz was seen in some circles as a political pariah who bore some responsibility for the deadly riot on Capitol Hill. The senator even faced credible calls for his resignation.
At the time, he expressed no regrets.
In other words, a year ago, when Cruz should've apologized, he stuck to his guns, and this week, when Cruz should've stuck to his guns, he apologized.