Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) begged Tucker Carlson for forgiveness on Thursday. His sin: intimating that some of the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 were terrorists. The one-time presidential candidate debased himself in front of millions of conservative viewers, attempting to atone for daring to criticize the MAGA rioters, but a prickly Carlson refused to accept his apology.
The saga started the day before, on the eve of the anniversary of the riot, when Cruz referred to the historic insurrection attempt as a “violent terrorist attack” during a speech on the Senate floor. His remarks set off fierce backlash in the MAGAverse — which has grown increasingly hostile to criticism of Jan. 6 — culminating with Carlson lashing out at the senator during primetime on Wednesday evening.
An obsequious Cruz appeared on Carlson’s show Thursday to smooth things over — an astonishing setup, in which one of the most high-profile elected Republicans in the country flogged himself before a cable news host.
The interview was a demonstration not only of Carlson’s power over the GOP, but of how Jan. 6 revisionism has become Republican orthodoxy — a line in the sand that officials dare not cross.
Aside from former President Donald Trump, arguably nobody has been more dedicated to revising Jan. 6 into a noble moment than Carlson. He produced a three-part docuseries last fall on Fox Nation called “Patriot Purge,” a nakedly fascist piece of propaganda packed with disinformation, omissions, and conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 attack that experts worried directly glorified political violence. And on Thursday, by humiliating Cruz on the first anniversary of the attack, he demonstrated that his revisionist narrative of Jan. 6 is now the dominant one in GOP politics.
“Tucker, thank you for having me on,” Cruz said at the beginning of the segment. “When you aired your episode last night, I sent you a text shortly thereafter and said, ‘Listen, I’d like to go on’ because the way I phrased things yesterday it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb.”
“I don’t buy that!” Carlson exclaimed, cutting Cruz off. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I don’t buy that.”
Carlson explained that he thinks Cruz, an Ivy League-educated lawyer whose name was floated as a possible Supreme Court nominee, isn’t someone who is reckless with words — a reasonable argument considering Cruz has referred to the Capitol riot as a “terrorist attack” on multiple occasions over the last year. His use of the phrase could hardly be described as off-the-cuff.
The servile senator, perhaps knowing he lost this round, pivoted to a different explanation for his remarks.
“What I was referring to are the limited number of people who engaged in violent attacks against police officers,” Cruz said. “I think you and I both agree that if you assault a police officer, you should go to jail. I wasn’t saying the thousands of peaceful protesters supporting Donald Trump are somehow terrorists. I wasn’t saying the millions of patriots across the country supporting Trump are terrorists.”
Carlson wasn’t buying this explanation either.
“But wait a second, hold on, what you just said doesn’t make sense,” he shot back. “So if somebody assaults cops, he should be charged and go to jail. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve said that for years. But that person is still not a terrorist. How many people have been charged with terrorism on Jan. 6? Why did you use that word?! You’re playing into the other side’s characterization.”
Cruz defended himself, saying that over the last decade, he’s called people who violently assault cops “terrorists” and reminded Carlson that he was among those Republicans who objected to the results of the 2020 election.
“That being said, Tucker, I agree with you,” Cruz said. “It was a mistake to say that yesterday, and the reason is what you just said, which is we have now had a year of Democrats and the media twisting words and trying to say that all of us are terrorists; trying to say you are a terrorist, I am a terrorist.”
Carlson remained steadfast in his disapproval and near the end of the interview said, “I guess I just don’t believe you. And I mean that with respect.”
Carlson’s essential message, as conveyed during “Patriot Purge” and numerous prime-time shows before and since, was remarkably dangerous. Nicole Hemmer, author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics,” described the documentary as “an overarching fantasy about the insurrection that goes like this: ‘It was not an insurrection. To the extent there was violence, it was stirred up by members of the government and left-wing agitators. All of it was orchestrated so that the full force of federal law enforcement could be unleashed against Trump supporters, marking them as enemies of the state.’”
Carlson’s interview with Cruz was also possibly a preview of a future, post-Trump Republican Party. Cruz, who finished second to Trump in the 2016 primary, has positioned himself as Trump’s successor.
But murmurs of a potential Carlson 2024 bid have grown louder in recent months, and if Thursday’s interview was any indication, the GOP belongs more to Carlson than Cruz.