HOUSTON (CN) — Texas Senator Ted Cruz, thrashed by the backlash over his refusal to certify Electoral College votes, is facing growing calls to resign from detractors across the political spectrum who have labeled him a terrorism fomenter and akin to a Nazi propogandist.
Cruz, 50, gave then-candidate Donald Trump his toughest challenge in the 2016 Republican presidential primary and the insults they tossed at each other got ugly.
Cruz called Trump a "pathological liar," "utterly amoral" and a "sniveling coward."
Trump called Cruz "a bit of a maniac," "a very unstable person," a "total fraud," and a "nasty, nasty guy," and said Cruz's Cuban father was involved in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
But they patched it up after Trump won the nomination and Cruz became one of the president's staunchest defenders, a loyalty that carried through the November presidential election to today, with Cruz backing Trump's claims he lost due to voting fraud.
As the Senate prepared to vote on certifying President-elect Joe Biden's win the morning of Jan. 6, Cruz, a skilled orator and constitutional lawyer who argued before the U.S. Supreme Court as Texas' solicitor general, told his colleagues they should appoint an electoral commission to conduct a 10-day emergency audit of the votes in six hotly contested states because nearly 40% of Americans believe the election was rigged.
The count was delayed when a mob of Trump supporters pushed past police into the U.S. Capitol in an attack that left five people dead, including a policeman who was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher.
Unswayed by the riot, Cruz joined seven other Republican senators in refusing to certify Biden as winner. He even reportedly sent a text message during the chaos to his supporters, which he said was automated, that read, “Ted Cruz here. I’m leading the fight to reject electors from key states unless there is an emergency audit of the election results. Will you stand with me?”
In the days after the attack, Cruz condemned it as "despicable and horrific," and said, "Each and every one of those terrorists need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
He also blamed Trump for contributing to the violence with his rhetoric, while insisting he is not at all to blame for it.
“What I was doing and what the other members were doing is what we were elected to do, which is debating matters of great import in the chamber of the United States Senate,” he told Houston’s CBS affiliate KHOU.
But critics say Cruz is complicit for backing Trump's fraud claims and they have not been shy about expressing their contempt for the senator. Cruz's hometown newspaper the Houston Chronicle urged him to resign in a Jan. 8 editorial that ended with this stinging rebuke: "Resign, Mr. Cruz, and deliver Texas from the shame of calling you our senator."
Biden likened Cruz and his fellow Electoral College vote-rejecter Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Cruz “will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack on our democracy.”
More than 11,000 lawyers and law students have signed a petition asking the Texas and the District of Columbia Bar Associations to start disbarment proceedings against Cruz.
Other petitions are circulating asking him to resign, including one started by a member of the voter registration group Vote Latino, which had nearly 9,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. The petition says "despite dozens of failed court challenges and no evidence of fraud whatsoever," Cruz said the election results of battleground states were suspect.
"Sen. Cruz has blood on his hands. This was a political game where he put his future opportunity to run for president above the people of Texas. He has lost the right to represent Texans in the U.S. Senate," the petition on MoveOn.org states.
Cruz launched his political career in 2012 as an anti-establishment Tea Party Republican, and over his nine years in the Senate he has alienated politicians of all stripes, most notably when his efforts to gut President Barack Obama's signature health care law led to a 17-day government shutdown in October 2013.
He narrowly won reelection in 2018 against Democrat Beto O'Rourke in a contest that set fundraising records, and experts say his loyal support of Trump could make or break him in his expected bid for president in 2024.
"Trump might be done politically but Trumpism will live on, especially in Texas," said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor. "Trump performed less well in Texas than most Republicans but his brand of rhetoric played well. Senator Cruz knows he can stoke that."
Cruz's Senate staff did not respond to questions about his presidential ambitions.
Longtime Texas Senator John Cornyn, also a Republican, did not reply when asked via his staff about the controversy surrounding Cruz.
Some Texas political pundits don't think Cruz's purported role in the Jan. 6 riot and ensuing fallout will cause the state’s Republican voters to sour on him.
But Rottinghaus said if Trump's rhetoric leads to more violence, as the FBI has warned, Cruz will have a "have a political tire around his neck in a general election."
Now, the political fortunes of a man who once reviled Trump are inextricably linked to him.
"Republicans who back Trump will reward him and those who dislike Trump will denounce him, so again, his campaign will be substantially about Trump," Rottinghaus said.Follow @@cam_langford
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.