The exchange epitomized the extremely fine line Republicans have walked on this issue — and also why, despite Crenshaw’s protestations, it won’t go away anytime soon. That’s thanks in large part to the very same fine line he sought to walk on Sunday.
Todd played a clip of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who was just ousted from House leadership over her criticisms of former president Donald Trump. In it, she warned that her party jeopardizes its ability to push back on President Biden’s agenda by not leveling with the American people about the election that Trump says was “stolen.” She said it created a fundamental trust problem.
Todd challenged Crenshaw: “Do any of your critiques come across as credible if you can’t accept the fundamental fact that our democracy held a free and fair election?”
While the question was posed broadly, Crenshaw leaped into defending himself personally. “I can stand by everything I’ve ever said,” he said. He suggested Todd should be familiar with his own record.
Todd indicated he was.
“I understand that,” Todd said. “But in December, you signed on to that lawsuit that the Texas attorney general filed to question the elections of other states, which seemed to be a pretty anti-Federalist thing to do.”
Crenshaw responded by downplaying the significance of the amicus brief that he and most other House Republicans signed on to in the Texas lawsuit to the Supreme Court. It didn’t seek to overturn the election, he argued, but was just asking the Supreme Court to decide the case. The Supreme Court, as expected, dismissed the suit.
That’s when Crenshaw began flashing the victim card.
“You guys in the press painted that as some extreme action, and of course it wasn’t,” Crenshaw said. “That amicus brief was a simple question of the Supreme Court in saying, ‘Can you please speak to this question of whether process changes in the election last-minute, not approved by the legislature, can be deemed constitutional?' ”
Crenshaw eventually boiled this down to a liberal media thing.
“We’re five months into President Biden’s presidency, and there is a time to move on,” Crenshaw said. “And look, the — you guys in the press love doing this and I — and I get it, right? The press is largely liberal.”
This was the point at which Todd really pushed back.
“Don’t start that,” Todd said. “Look, there’s nothing lazier. There’s nothing lazier than that.”
There’s a lot of nuance here, and it’s worth recapping.
The first thing to note is that Crenshaw has a point in that he, himself, didn’t go as far as many of his colleagues. He did not vote to challenge the electors sent by the states at issue on Jan. 6, and he went so far as to criticize those pushing that as a remedy. He accused them of spreading lies about Congress’s true ability and mandate to change the election outcome.
Beyond that, there’s the matter of what he and House Republicans actually signed on to in the Texas case. The lawsuit sought to throw out the results in key states — enough to change the outcome of the 2020 election — but the amicus brief from House Republicans was more careful. It urged the court to review the case by citing supposed issues with how the key states conducted their election, rather than urging a specific outcome. Even before the Supreme Court dismissed the case, Crenshaw argued that the pushback on the amicus brief was too harsh.
“The request here is simple: allow this case to be elevated to the Supreme Court, and let the Supreme Court make a determination,” Crenshaw said. “All cases should be heard, all investigations should be thorough. It is that simple.”
So if you’re looking for the worst offenders when it comes to pushing lies about the election, Crenshaw isn’t really your target.
But as Todd rightly reinforced, it’s not just about that. It’s also about doing other things that give life to the “Big Lie.” While the amicus brief was careful in its prescriptions, it also cited “an unprecedented number of serious allegations of fraud and irregularities.” Again, that’s careful in that it alleges “allegations” rather than actual proven fraud, but calling them “serious” sure puts weight behind those allegations.
Crenshaw’s pushback on Congress accepting the electors in key states was also more of a process objection than anything else. The “lies” he cited were about whether it was constitutional to do so — not so much about whether it was warranted based upon the evidence.
The question from there becomes: If you’re willing to call that a lie, why not the many far-flung allegations about the election put forward by your party’s president or your colleagues?
And that’s really the crux of the matter. So many top Republicans have stopped well shy of embracing the crazy things Trump has said about voter fraud in the election. They instead offered watered-down defenses of challenging the election, citing supposedly suspect ways in which states conducted their elections. This allowed them to look to the base like they were standing by Trump without having to account for his actual allegations (because they really can’t be accounted for).
That tension between what Trump says and what they say lives on today. Republicans continue to pretend that casting Cheney out of leadership was about moving forward and not re-litigating the past. Meanwhile, Trump remains laser-focused on re-litigating that past, releasing statements lodging the same baseless and debunked allegations about the election. Unlike in Cheney’s case, though, his party simply ignores it or, when pressed, deflects away from it.
Todd hit the nail on the head.
“Why do we sit here and have a political party that is basically rallying around this bizarre lie and mythology that the former president is doing, and you guys just want to say, ‘Hey, pay no attention to this’ — that somehow we in the press are bringing that up?” Todd said. “It’s the former president.”
Crenshaw assured that this was not what his constituents were asking him about. He also said that, were he consulting Trump, he would say, “Mr. President, please keep talking about the border. Please keep talking about these issues.”
But if there’s anything the last six months have shown us, it’s that this subtle nudging and careful parsing of precisely what you’re saying about the election doesn’t seem to register with Trump. Nor does gently urging him to focus on other things. Even worse, it has led a huge majority of Republicans to believe Biden is an illegitimate president.
Perhaps at some point it might serve those who want to move on to settle this issue and say precisely what they think about what the former president is saying, rather than focusing on how they have said something more nuanced.
Until then, this is going to linger. And that’s not because of the media; it’s because of the guy they’ve made clear remains the leader of their party.