- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2020

No Republican has been more active in defense of President Trump during the impeachment trial than Sen. Ted Cruz.

It’s a striking role for the Texan, who four years ago at this time thought he’d be the one sitting in the White House. Instead, he’s back in the Senate, newly re-elected to a six-year term, and deploying his considerable legal mind in the defense of his former nemesis.

His office has been running a war room and issuing fact-checks to poke at the Democrats’ case, while Mr. Cruz himself has been holding press conferences, making the rounds of television and radio, and recording a new hit podcast, “The Verdict,” where he delivers a withering critique of the impeachment.

His best could be yet to come. Senators this week get a chance to question the impeachment managers, and Mr. Cruz has been gearing up. His office says he’s been writing down thoughts during the floor sessions and, since electronics are banned, he’s been sending the notes by runner back to his office for compilation.

It will be must-see TV for politicos to watch a man who has practiced before the Supreme Court legally joust with Reps. Adam B. Schiff and Jerrold Nadler, Democrats’ impeachment maestros — even if he doesn’t get to ask the questions himself. That role will be played by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

“No senator has a better understanding of the Constitution and the law in this area than Senator Cruz does,” says Ron Nehring, who worked for Mr. Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign and his 2018 Senate re-election bid.

It turns out a lot of people are eager to hear what he has to say.

His podcast, which launched a week ago as the impeachment trial began, now tops the charts as the most popular show on Apple’s iTunes. The Joe Rogan Experience, where host Joe Rogan just made news with his controversial endorsement of Sen. Bernard Sanders in the Democratic primary, is in second place.

Mr. Cruz makes a half-hour episode well worth the investment.

Saturday’s installment saw Mr. Cruz confirm reports that GOP senators were angered by Mr. Schiff claiming the White House promised retribution on any Republican who defied the president. Mr. Cruz said he heard some senators on the floor booing Mr. Schiff for the claim.

“That was an interesting moment. That stuck with people,” he said.

The senator also reported on speculation among Republicans that Democrats have turned on former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who had been their leading presidential candidate, which he said is one reason the House impeachment team has “thrown Biden under the bus” by focusing so much on Ukrainian corruption.

“I don’t know the theory is right, but it was a significant topic of conversation around the dinner table,” Mr. Cruz said.

As for the legal arguments, Mr. Cruz laid out how he would attack the case against the president. His advice: Don’t let Mr. Biden off the hook.

Those in the White House have noticed Mr. Cruz’s firm backing, and are appreciative.

“He’s gone out of his way to be a team player,” said one official.

They are also aware, though, it’s more than just a good legal scholar at work on their behalf.

“He’s running for president,” the official told The Washington Times. “He’s got to make peace with the Trump wing, and this is it.”

That Mr. Cruz is backing Mr. Trump at all, much less emerging as such a fierce and formidable defender, would have seemed shocking to anyone who’d just watched the GOP presidential primary four years ago.

Mr. Trump emerged victorious after such lowlights as suggesting Mr. Cruz’s father was involved in killing President Kennedy. Mr. Cruz also believes Mr. Trump planted a fabricated story about multiple affairs in the National Enquirer, a publication that was doing Mr. Trump’s bidding for much of the campaign.

Mr. Cruz responded with a combative convention speech that declined to endorse Mr. Trump.

A Cruz aide said the senator is now happy to be defending Mr. Trump. But his fight against impeachment goes beyond that.

“He’s really defending the Constitution,” the aide said. “He’s really dialed into this.”

Mr. Cruz isn’t the only 2016 opponent sitting in judgment of Mr. Trump. There’s also Sen. Marco Rubio, another who four years ago thought he’d be sitting in the Oval Office.

Instead, Mr. Rubio has settled into a leadership role on foreign affairs. He was one of the president’s fiercest defenders of the drone missile strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

And his impish sense of humor is also back, according to the White House official, who said Mr. Trump in the White House has been liberating for both men.

“By reducing the pressure on them to run for office in 2020, he’s allowed guys like Cruz and Rubio to be who they are,” the official said. “In Cruz’s case, a pretty good thinker with a quick mind. A natural debater. In Rubio’s case, it’s a guy that looks at a lot of the conventions of the business he’s in and realizes how ridiculous they can be.”

Mr. Rubio was always willing to work within the Senate GOP to achieve his aims. Mr. Cruz, not as much.

He famously butted heads with fellow Republicans by orchestrating the 2013 government shutdown over Obamacare, and a year later clashed with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the debt.

Mr. Nehring says those were different times — in part because the GOP was battling a Democratic president then.

Mr. Nehring says the 2018 campaign, where Mr. Trump campaigned for Mr. Cruz, made clear the presidential battle is a distant memory for both the senator and the president.

Fellow GOP senators say they aren’t surprised that Mr. Cruz is being a loyal soldier now.

“Times have changed,” said Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican.

He and other senators said Democrats’ impeachment case, which they call the weakest to ever reach the Senate, is helping cement GOP unity.

“Cruz is a lawyer. Rubio is a lawyer. A lot of us carry common sense into this. I think in this case the proponents of impeachment are in real trouble,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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