Sen. Ted Cruz's Efforts to Overturn Election 'Irresponsible' but not Seditious, Experts Say

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is leading an effort to keep the president in office.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is leading an effort to keep the president in office.
Gage Skidmore
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With time running out before Congress meets to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, Texas Republicans are ramping up their efforts to derail it.

Saturday, The Washington Post reported that Sen. Ted Cruz is leading a plan to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s win when Congress meets Wednesday to certify the election results.

Democrats — and some Republicans — upset by the move have dubbed Cruz's attempt to keep President Donald Trump in office “seditious.” It's not, said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

“One could say it’s being irresponsible, but it’s not sedition,” he said.

Cruz’s actions have angered many, but sycophantic spectacle does not equate to sedition. The same can be said for treason, a term that some critics have also used interchangeably.

Sedition would mean that one has tried to overthrow their country’s legitimate government, or at least undermine it to a significant extent, Jones said. A textbook example: If someone were to encourage a large number of people to revolt or ask the military to intervene to prevent Biden from taking office.

One commits treason when they betray their country, Jones added, such as if someone were to sell U.S. military secrets to the Russians.

In response to such allegations, Cruz told his critics to “calm down," classifying their rhetoric as “hyperbole,” according to The Hill.

Jones said the senator likely knows he doesn’t have a solid case for keeping Trump in office. Rather, he’s demonstrating to Trump’s base that he has the president’s back.

“I think his overall message is, ‘I’m doing this to curry favor with Trump’s supporters, not because I think it has a chance or has any real legitimacy,’” Jones said. “You can best understand Cruz’s action by his desire to run for president in 2024.”

Traditionally, the opening of the electoral college ballots in front of the vice president and before Congress has been a pro forma matter that has occurred without incident, said Kimi King, a political science professor at the University of North Texas. Not even former Vice Presidents Richard Nixon and Al Gore contested the electoral college ballots following their failed bids for the presidency in 1960 and 2000, respectively.

There have been legitimate cases in which Congress has faced two competing slates of electoral college votes and had to figure out which ones were legally cast, said Zack Malitz, treasurer of the Boot Texas Republicans Political Action Committee. This isn’t one of them.

It may not technically be seditious or treasonous, but Cruz’s efforts are still “wholly inappropriate in this context,” said Malitz, who also co-authored a count guide laying out the process by which Trump and Republicans could try to overturn the election.

When people invoke those terms, Malitz said there’s a spirit to what they’re saying: Attempts to challenge a legitimate election are antithetical to democratic mores. In America, voters should choose their leaders rather than their leaders being self-appointed.

Still, Malitz said Trump’s doting base may concoct reasons to support those efforts. A new NPR/Ipsos poll found that more than 1 in 3 Americans believes in the existence of a “deep state” working to undermine Trump.

“For democracy to work, most people have to live in the same reality,” Malitz said. “They can disagree ... but they have to basically live in the same world.”

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