WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri took to the stage today at the Conservative Political Action Conference and gave what amounted to their most extensive public remarks since Jan. 6, when both were seen by critics as having helped incite a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election.
Cruz spoke on Friday morning, while Hawley addressed the audience in a less enviable afternoon spot. As they have in appearances on Fox News and other outlets in recent weeks, they cast themselves as victims of Democratic “cancel culture” — an ill-defined concept that encompasses social and corporate disapproval — while taking no responsibility for inciting the white supremacists and other supporters of former President Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol in hopes of keeping Joe Biden from assuming the Oval Office.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Hawley said, justifying his objection to the election’s results in Pennsylvania, which slowed what was to have been a routine certification process. “I thought it was an important stand to take.”
Though he had been making similar defenses since Jan. 6, Friday represented for both Cruz and Hawley a chance to speak in Trump’s backyard to some of Trump’s most loyal supporters. Though the crowd was smaller and less boisterous than in past years, it was seemingly uniform in its support of the 45th president, so much so that some attendees wheeled a golden statue of Trump into the conference hall.
“Let me tell you this right now, Donald J. Trump ain’t going anywhere,” Cruz said in his own, boisterous remarks. “These deplorables are here to stay,” he added a little later, using Hillary Clinton’s infamous term for Trump supporters from the 2016 presidential campaign.
Whether Trump plans to mount another presidential run in 2024 remains a matter of dispute, which left Hawley, Cruz and other White House hopefuls, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a somewhat tricky position. CPAC is usually an audition for future presidential candidates, but with Trump himself potentially among that group, any such audition had to be carefully managed in order not to offend the most popular Republican in the country.
Hawley and Cruz have faced six weeks of unremitting scrutiny for what their critics say was an act of opportunism on Jan. 6. Hawley has seen a book contract with Simon & Schuster canceled, and was harshly denounced by John Danforth, the former Missouri senator who had once served as a mentor to the young firebrand.
Cruz had his own political woes compounded by revelations that he had traveled to Cancún with his family while Texas was hit by a devastating winter storm. In his remarks on Friday, Cruz made light of that latest brouhaha. “Orlando is awesome,” he enthused. “It’s not as nice as Cancún,” he joked, “but it’s nice.” He did not otherwise remark on the situation in his home state, where thousands remain in distress.
With his edgy sense of humor on full display, Cruz mocked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has described fearing for her life as the pro-Trump mob went rampaging through the U.S. Capitol.
Then, pivoting to anger, he lamented the “giant fences with razor wires” that have been erected around the Capitol. “Democrats are convinced that political theater helps them,” Cruz said of those measures, which were put in place after the riot.
Somewhat more restrained in his own address, Hawley reprised attacks on Silicon Valley that he’d been making throughout his time in the U.S. Senate. Those attacks have found new traction with conservatives since Trump and some of his supporters were banned from social media.
“I am here today, I am not going anywhere, and I am not backing down. Not a chance,” he said to a brief standing ovation.
Both men depicted American politics as a Manichean battle between the hard left and patriotic Americans. That is how many Republicans appear to view things, with 4 in 10 saying political violence may be justified, according to a poll conducted earlier this month.
“This is the Rebel Alliance,” Cruz said, referencing the “Star Wars” franchise. He also made allusions to “Braveheart,” the 1995 film about Scottish independence, concluding his speech with a cry of “Freedom!” that instantly became a social media sensation.
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