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02.14.16 4:06 AM ET

Trump’s Not Wrong: Cruz Loved The Justice The Right Hates

Ted Cruz has claimed a special skill at judging would-be Supreme Court nominees—but his praise of Justice Roberts in 2005 might call his judgment into question as the debate on who will replace Justice Antonin Scalia begins.

At tonight’s Republican presidential debate, Ted Cruz tried valiantly to distance himself from his support for John Roberts’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. But correspondence with his staff in the Texas solicitor general’s office shows Cruz was just as enthusiastic as anyone about Roberts’s prospects on the high court.

And though Cruz argued tonight that only he will have the special prescience necessary to pick SCOTUS nominees that will keep conservatives happy, his history of loving Roberts belies that. Roberts, of course, was the deciding vote in a 2012 Supreme Court case that upheld the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate—essentially ending the debate about the constitutionality of Obamacare.

In an internal email disseminated throughout his office in 2005 and since obtained by The Daily Beast, Cruz spoke glowingly of Roberts, encouraging his staff to keep a close eye on his Supreme Court confirmation hearings before the Senate. At the time, Cruz was Texas’s solicitor general.

“What made John so good at the podium was the way he could, eschewing rhetoric, calmly and coolly answer each and every difficult question that came his way,” Cruz emailed his staff during Roberts’s 2005 confirmation hearings. “His balanced, reasonable tone commanded enormous respect at the Court, and, over the years, he earned unparalleled credibility before the Justices.”

Cruz went on to call Roberts “one of the very best advocates ever,” who exemplified “how to try to carry out our craft with the highest level of skill and integrity.”

In that same message, dated Sept. 13, 2005, Cruz called Roberts “the best Supreme Court litigator in the nation.”

“I’ve worked with John and seen him argue numerous cases, and, to my mind, there’s not another appellate advocate who’s even close,” he said.

Cruz made no secret of his admiration for Roberts. In July of 2005, he wrote an op-ed for National Review calling him “brilliant.” In that article, Cruz explained that he had been part of the team that assembled lawyers to litigate Bush v. Gore, the case that decided the 2000 presidential election. Cruz wrote that he called Roberts and asked him to help with the team, and Roberts immediately hopped on a plane to Florida.

“As an individual, John Roberts is undoubtedly a principled conservative, as is the president who appointed him,” Cruz wrote in that op-ed.

Cruz has since said that he goofed a little on Roberts—and he’s been trying to compensate for it ever since. Since announcing his candidacy, Cruz has had very different things to say about Roberts than he did back in the day.

Last September, The Washington Post reported that Cruz suggested Bush erred by nominating Roberts.

“In 2005, in one room was John Roberts, and in another room was my former boss, Mike Luttig, a rock-ribbed conservative jurist on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals—and George W. Bush picked John Roberts,” Cruz said in a speech at a conference hosted by Phyllis Schlafly’s group.

And in the debate tonight, Trump hit him over the inconsistency—and hit him hard. The mogul initially directed his criticism at Jeb Bush, dinging him for his brother’s appointment of Roberts. But he mentioned Cruz in that breath, so Cruz jumped in.

“I did not nominate John Roberts,” he said. “I would not have nominated John Roberts.”

“You pushed him, you pushed him!” Trum retorted.

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“Donald, Donald—” Cruz replied.

“Why do you lie?” Trump shot back.

“Donald, adults learn not to interrupt each other,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re an adult,” Trump said, voice dripping with contempt. “You’re an adult.”

“I did not nominate him,” Cruz insisted again.

Of course, it’s completely correct that Cruz didn’t nominate Roberts; Cruz was not president of the United States in 2005. But, as Cruz’s own email and op-ed make abundantly clear, he was a vocal and adoring booster of Roberts during his confirmation hearing process.

After news of Scalia’s death broke, Cruz tweeted that the next president should nominate the next Supreme Court justice.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the same thing. If that’s how this shakes out, and if Cruz just so happens to be the next president, the email we’ve reported here suggest he may not have the special SCOTUS prescience that he claims.