The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Cruz’s record on immigration can’t be redeemed by Sen. Jeff Sessions

There was a telling moment in last night’s GOP presidential debate. Trapped by his own words displayed on video, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) could not explain his inconsistencies and flat-out misrepresentations. Instead he pleaded with the audience to take others’ word for it that he was a solid opponent of legalization for illegal immigrants:

And I’ll tell you who supported my amendment — Jeff Sessions, the strongest opponent of amnesty in the United States Congress. And he did so because taking citizenship off the table was important, and it revealed the hypocrisy of the proponents of this bill, who were looking for votes. . . . And I stood alongside Jeff Sessions and Steve King, and we led the fight against amnesty. And if you want to know who’s telling the truth, you should look and ask people like Jeff Sessions and Steve King and Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, all of whom say, as Jeff Sessions said, responding to these false attacks just recently in Alabama — he said, “if it wasn’t for Ted Cruz, the Gang of Eight Rubio/Schumer bill would have passed. But because Ted stood up and helped lead the effort, millions rose up to kill it.

The average Iowa voter may be saying, “Who the heck is Jeff Sessions, and why should I take his word for it?” Cruz was telling voters not to believe their lying eyes but to take the word of some other state’s senator and a bunch of talk radio demagogues. Good grief. The man is a U.S. senator, running to be commander in chief, and he is citing Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh as character witnesses? It was a low moment for the onetime collegiate debate champ. (By the way, if in 2013 Cruz was introducing a poison pill, he was a convincing liar, making others believe he actually supported legalization. Moreover, no word was mentioned of his pre-Senate work on behalf of a pro-legalization group.) When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went in for the kill, there was little that Cruz could say:

I was there and I saw the debate. I saw Ted Cruz say, “we’ll take citizenship off the table, and then the bill will pass, and I’m for the bill.”
The bill would involve legalization. He can’t have it both ways. But what is particularly insulting, though, is that he is the king of saying, “you’re for amnesty.” Everybody’s for amnesty except for Ted Cruz.
But it’s a falseness, and that’s an authenticity problem — that everybody he knows is not as perfect as him because we’re all for amnesty. I was for legalization. I think, frankly, if you have border security, you can have legalization. So was Ted, but now he says it wasn’t so. That’s not true.

Cruz’s attempts at humor fell flat, and his pouty threat (albeit in jest) to leave the stage confirmed what so many already knew: He is not a likable guy. In weeks of hammering at Cruz’s “calculating” maneuvers, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) could not do as much damage as Cruz did to himself last night.

The only silver lining to this fiasco was that Donald Trump was not there to make Cruz look even worse.