WASHINGTON, D.C.—On January 5, the day before the Capitol riot, Texas congressman Chip Roy spent most of the day working on the remarks he planned to deliver on the House floor. At his office, he talked by phone with constitutional scholars as well as other members, who helped him craft his message denouncing efforts to overturn the results of the election—a campaign led by President Trump and many other Republicans, most notably by Senator Ted Cruz, Roy’s friend, former boss, and ideological soulmate. It would be the most important speech of Roy’s career.
By the time the Central Texas Republican finished writing, it was late, and he hadn’t eaten all day. On the way home to his Virginia apartment, he stopped at a sports bar for wings and beer. Roy was disappointed that the joint had stopped serving alcohol, but he was more distressed by a scene unfolding before him with ominous implications.
“The place was filled with MAGA Trump supporters. Absolutely filled. Many people that I would have seen as supporters throughout the campaign all last year,” Roy told an audience on Friday at an Austin event organized by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. “I kept hearing people say, ‘Liberals are going to be upset tomorrow when the vice president stops this steal and gives this election back to the president.’”
Roy’s speech the next day, January 6, would be delayed as a crush of Trump supporters, incited by their leader at a rally behind the White House, stormed and ransacked the Capitol in an afternoon of fantastical scenes by turns farcical and deadly. Roy hurried to update his speech to call for the rioters to “go to jail” and to admonish Trump for having “spun up certain Americans to believe something that simply cannot be.”
Though many other Republicans condemned the rioters while nonetheless voting to oblige their anti-democratic demands, Roy stood his ground. From the House floor, he argued that Congress was obligated to accept the only slate of electors that each of the states had provided, and that the remedy the president and the great majority of Republican members of the House were seeking was plainly unconstitutional. He urged other Republicans to vote no.
“That vote may sign my political death warrant, but so be it,” Roy said on the House floor. “I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and I will not bend its words into contortions for personal political expediency.”
Though Roy later voted against impeaching Trump for a second time, he said the president “deserves universal condemnation for what was clearly, in my opinion, impeachable conduct.”
Now, two weeks after the events of January 6, it’s worth considering whether Roy’s worries about writing his own political death warrant were a melodramatic flourish or a realistic recognition that even as Donald Trump surrendered the White House on Wednesday, much of the GOP remains deeply in his thrall, unforgiving of those who would seek to break the spell.
Indeed, Roy’s troubles are more likely to come from Republicans than Democrats. In 2018 he defeated Democrat Joseph Kopser by 2.6 percentage points in the Twenty-first Congressional District, which runs from San Antonio north to Austin and west to the Nueces River. In 2020, he beat Wendy Davis by a comfortable 6.6 percentage points, But his biggest hurdle was securing the GOP nomination in 2018, emerging from an eighteen-candidate primary field and then narrowly besting businessman Matt McCall in a runoff.
What clearly separated Roy from the pack was his affiliation with Cruz. “Ted carried him into office,” McCall said. “He gave him his prestige, his name, his money, his contacts, everything he put on the line for this guy. He literally drove him around in the Ted Cruz Cruzer.” The senator lassoed endorsements for Roy, even from Louie Gohmert, who McCall saw as his congressional role model.
McCall said that Roy is a “political pharisee” who has all but sealed his fate. “He’s going to be fired by the people of CD 21 because he’s burned them,” McCall said. “He always burns everybody because he thinks that he’s Thomas Jefferson and he’s going to keep the whole world straight.”
Some think Cruz, by contrast, will emerge from this political trauma strengthened in the eyes of Trump supporters who remain numerous and active in Texas.
“I think Ted Cruz is going to come out of the last thirty days stronger than he was before,” said Republican strategist Luke Macias. “And the sad reality is that Chip Roy may very well lose reelection due to positions he’s taken in the last thirty days, votes he’s taken, and statements he’s made.”
Though Macias prefers the course Cruz pursued, he said he admires Roy. “I will take a congressman who does the right thing 95 percent of the time, but acts on his conscience 100 percent of the time, even if we disagree that 5 percent,” he said.
Roy said he’s at peace with his decision. “I did not take an oath to the political expediency of either Donald Trump or any other member of a political party,” said Roy. “I took an oath to the Constitution of the United States. My view is immovable in that regard. And for those raising questions about it, I want to know where they were—precisely where they were—when a Capitol Hill police officer was getting his head bashed in by a fire extinguisher by an angry mob spun up in no small part by the president’s irresponsible actions.”
Roy’s appearance on Friday at the Texas Public Policy Foundation event kicked off what promises to be a long season of explaining himself. He told me that he believes that Republicans were “being fed misinformation” and that one of his tasks now is to counsel voters on just how they were misled.
Roy has been blunt about Trump’s starring role in fomenting the misinformation that lit the fuse of insurrection, and even the supporting role played by another of Roy’s former bosses, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, who in December filed a gobsmacking lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the electors in four states Biden won. (Cruz, at Trump’s urging, offered to argue the case.)
“It was clearly evident and obvious that it would have zero chance of success for anybody who understands the law and understands the Supreme Court and understands how these cases are going to go,” said Roy, who served as first assistant attorney general to Paxton before leaving in March 2016 to direct a super PAC backing Cruz’s presidential bid. The Supreme Court ultimately declined to hear the case.
But Roy has been less direct about the responsibility of his friend Ted Cruz. Their paths on January 6 could not have been more divergent, with Roy denouncing the president and the elector challenges, and Cruz continuing that night to press his objection to certifying the Biden electors from Arizona—the first of two states voted on—even after witnessing the terrible passions the doomed maneuver had stirred.
For some veterans of Cruzworld who had been dismayed by the senator’s growing allegiance to Trump, even after he repeatedly insulted Cruz’s wife and father, Cruz’s flirtations with overturning the election were unforgivable.
“He knows it’s all a lie,” Rick Tyler, a onetime national spokesman for Cruz’s presidential campaign, told Texas Monthly. “Ted Cruz has a lifelong pattern of deceptions if they serve him, except this one was a big one, and it cost people their lives.”
But while Roy thinks he is right and Cruz is wrong, he classifies their disagreement as falling within reasonable bounds. “My friendship with Senator Ted Cruz is immovable,” Roy told me. “I think everybody needs to dial it down on both kinds of extremes. Those attacking [Cruz and some others] and calling them seditionists, it’s absolutely absurd. We can agree to disagree on these things and we need to. I’ll have more to say on that later but my friendship with Senator Ted Cruz is not up for negotiation.”
But like Cruz, Roy is accustomed to taking stands that provoke angry reactions from ideological opponents and frustrated colleagues. He is also a master of the kind of right-wing virtue signaling that serves to remind his core voters that, even with his apostasy on Trump, he is still their Chip.
In 2019, Roy single-handedly held up a federal relief bill that contained billions in aid to Hurricane Harvey victims because he objected to the way the legislation was put to a vote.
When Joe Biden tweeted on December 9 that “on day one” as president he would sign an executive order requiring masks, Roy replied, “On day one I will tell you to kiss my ass. #StandUpForAmerica”
On day one I will tell you to kiss my ass. #StandUpForAmerica https://t.co/1Yqygxcu69
— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) December 9, 2020
When, in the immediate aftermath of the mayhem of January 6, Twitter and Facebook banned Trump and Apple and Google removed Parler—the Twitter of the right—from app stores, Roy tweeted, “I want to be clear to @Twitter, @apple, @Facebook … and all you leftist assholes. I don’t care what you do. You are irrelevant to my life & happiness. We’re going to do as we damned well please. #ComeAndTakeIt”
I want to be clear to @Twitter, @apple, @Facebook… and all you leftist assholes. I don’t care what you do. You are irrelevant to my life & happiness. We’re going to do as we damned well please. #ComeAndTakeIt
— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) January 9, 2021
(On January 11, Roy wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that he was suspending indefinitely his use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media because “it tempts us to be reactive and feeds the worst of our human tendency to respond in anger rather than to stop and think before communicating.”)
When, after the breach of the Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered metal detectors installed outside the House chamber, Roy was defiant. “The metal detector policy for the House floor is unnecessary, unconstitutional, and endangers members,” he said. “I did not comply tonight. I will not comply in the future.”
Roy won’t say whether he ever brought a concealed weapon into the chamber. But he said that as he was told to hunker down on the House floor as the mob banged on chamber doors, it fixed things in his mind: “I’ve got no way to protect myself and that’s not my view of what the Second Amendment stands for.”
There were also reports that some Republican members feared for their safety and the safety of their families if they voted for impeachment.
“I’m not aware of any specific threats against me or anybody else,” Roy told me. “Honestly, if somebody would have threatened me, I probably would have said FU and voted to impeach. I just don’t react well to that sort of thing.”