After a white nationalist rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent on Saturday, President Donald Trump jumped in with a statement that even many Republicans thought was alarmingly vague.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides," Trump said, without any mention of white nationalists, and ignoring questions from reporters about the car that had plowed into counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19 others.
But while Trump was content to stay vague on the subject, Republican politicians quickly weighed in with statements decrying the violence in Virginia so forcefully that it is impossible to read these statements as anything other than a rebuke of Trump's spineless comments.
And intriguingly, Senator Ted Cruz led the pack with a statement issued on Facebook that did not mince words:
"The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate. Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism."
Up until now, Republican officials have been reluctant to publicly criticize the president, even if they have dodged actually defending Trump. However, Trump's comments, particularly his failure to call out white nationalists, white supremacists and hate groups, characterizing the violence as having come from groups "on many sides" opened up the floodgates.
Cruz and other GOP politicians in Texas and across the country joined in with statements issued on Facebook and Twitter against the violence in Virginia and against Trump's tepid response to it.
Now, as we've mentioned before, Cruz is up for re-election in 2018 and in recent months has apparently begun to notice that he has few friends in the Senate and that he has little in the way of accomplishments to campaign for reelection on. Cruz now faces Republican primary challengers, Houston energy lawyer Stefano de Stefano and former Corpus Christi Mayor Dan McQueen (the one who resigned 37 days into his term last year), followed by a Democratic opponent, Representative Beto O'Rourke.
Thus, Cruz has been attempting to make moves and make deals and change his image, with limited success.
Until now, that is.
On Saturday Cruz was relatively quick to make clear that neither he nor the Republican party have anything resembling tolerance for the actions of the white supremacists in Virginia, and he was the first of the GOP crew to push for a Department of Justice investigation of the fatal car crash.
And Cruz did so in time to be counted as a part of the GOP that both refused to be at all affiliated with what happened in Virginia, the Republicans who refused to have anything to do with Trump's initial, vague statement.
Remarkably, the pressure from all sides, including his own party, seems to have had an effect on Trump.
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Late Monday morning, almost 48 hours after Cruz and company had issued their own statements and proceeded to call the president out for failing to say more damning words about the hate groups involved in the violence, Trump issued a new statement:
"Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans," the president said from the White House.
So Trump changed his tune, and Cruz gets to have credit for helping him change it. Next thing you know, Cruz could develop actual allies in the Senate. Anything is possible.
Now, we just have to see how Cruz handles the white nationalist groups that are already planning to hold events right here in Texas — one of them will be held on September 11 at Texas A&M University. It should be telling to see how Cruz handles this stuff when it's right in his own backyard.