At first blush, these men have little in common. Cruz humiliated himself to stay on the right side of the MAGA crowd, while Cheney brought honor to his family by escorting his daughter, Liz, to the Jan. 6 anniversary ceremony at the Capitol.
But both men did something this week that they probably didn’t really want to do—something that would have been unimaginable a few short years ago. And it was all because of Trump.
Cruz—the runner-up for the GOP nomination in 2016—groveled to Tucker Carlson and backtracked on his criticism of rioters who attacked police at the U.S. Capitol last year. (Full disclosure: My wife formerly served as Cruz’s national fundraiser, and Tucker is a friend and my former boss). Meanwhile Cheney—a hard-nosed partisan who once told Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy to “go fuck yourself”—was photographed shaking hands with Nancy Pelosi.
Let’s start with Cruz. He committed the grave sin of referring to the insurrectionists as “terrorists.” We can debate the semantics, but Cruz’s word choice created a specific narrative problem; it flies in the face of a central theme in Carlson’s Patriot Purge documentary, which suggests that the Biden administration is attempting to cast Trump voters as terrorists. After Carlson criticized Cruz on Wednesday night (and others, including Seb Gorka, attacked him), Cruz felt compelled to go on Carlson’s show and further humiliate himself.
If that wasn’t sad enough, he tweeted the video out, adding: “Yesterday, I used a dumb choice of words and unfortunately a lot of people are misunderstanding what I meant.”
This is a trend with Cruz. We saw this when he bowed to Trump, even after Trump insulted his wife’s looks and suggested his father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. And we’re seeing the same humiliation again, this time as a result of the riot that Trump inspired.
By now, he should have learned the lesson: You can’t be your own person and be acceptable to Trump. Trump (and now, Trumpism) demands everything. There is no allowance for nuance. There’s no threading the needle (as Cruz wanted to do by criticizing a mob that attacked Capitol police). This presents a Catch-22: Trump’s voters love that he’s an alpha male fighter, and bowing to him makes you look weak—but standing up to him gets you ostracized.
This brings us to Cheney, a tough-as-nails GOP hardliner who probably never imagined his daughter would be the lone Republican to attend such a solemn ceremony, much less that one of his rare public appearances these days would involve shaking hands with Pelosi.
I don’t want to suggest that this act of civility was on par with Cruz’s act of self-flagellation. But it’s probably not how Cheney—once the formidable “Darth Vader” of the GOP—imagined he would spend his golden years. Instead of riding off into the sunset as a celebrated Republican conqueror, Cheney now finds himself cast as an establishment RINO. .
Of course, the definition of “RINO” has changed. Today, if you are a Republican, you are defined by your loyalty to Trump. This is the litmus test, and part of demonstrating this loyalty is insisting that he won the 2020 election and downplaying what happened on Jan. 6 (the fact that they cannot get their act together on the precise talking point for that infamous date is beside the point). We are all still dancing to the tune Trump keeps cranking out.
This is Trump’s party, just as it was George W. Bush and Richard Cheney’s party not that long ago. But in this aspect of the story, there is a glimmer of hope.
A decade ago, Ted Cruz (and the rest of the Republicans) would have both respected and feared Cheney. If Cheney told them to jump, they would have asked, “How high?” And now, a decade later, Cheney is an aging statesman who is (at best) irrelevant to the Republican Party he once dominated.
If we’re lucky, Donald Trump will end up in that same boat. Maybe we will get lucky, and it will capsize with him in it.