Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been a familiar face and voice on Fox News, right-wing talk radio and elsewhere in the conservative media ecosystem since first being elected to the Senate more than a decade ago.
But these days, Cruz is getting a boost in raising his profile through a media product of his own making.
The Republican lawmaker hosts a now thrice-weekly podcast that has grown in popularity since its first episode published during former President Trump’s first impeachment trial.
Over the last three years, “Verdict” has helped Cruz amass a following of millions of listeners each month, all while promoting frequent GOP talking points, blasting his political enemies and keeping the senator's name in the headlines.
“I’m not interested in being a pundit,” the Republican senator told The Hill during an interview this week. “But part of fighting successfully is communicating and explaining what the issues are that matter. So, I view the podcast as fulfilling one of the really important responsibilities of representing Texans.”
“Verdict” became a quick success in terms of listenership during Trump’s first impeachment drama, quickly climbing podcasting leaderboards, with Politico noting at the time it beat out “The Daily” from The New York Times and Joe Rogan’s popular talk show on iTunes.
Today, it ranks among the top podcasts in the “politics” category and among the top 25 among all “news” podcasts, according to podcast tracking website PodBay. This month alone, “Verdict” has raked in 2 million downloads, including more than a million unique listeners, Cruz said.
The Republican argues that his show, which often features lengthy discussions on constitutional law and politics, has seen success because of what he described as the failings of the mainstream media in acknowledging topics important to conservatives.
“Much of the corporate media does not provide in-depth coverage of what is going on,” Cruz contends. “The reason why people faithfully listen three times a week is because when they’re done they’ve learned something … far better than what they’re able to get from the vast majority of media sources.”
Started initially as an explanatory program laying out and poking holes in the impeachment charges against Trump, Cruz now uses each episode of “Verdict” to pontificate about everything from President Biden’s family to foreign policy issues and other news of the day.
During one recent episode, Cruz explained for his audience the legalese around Hunter Biden’s plea deal, which fell apart in a Delaware courtroom last week after the president’s son was expected to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of willful failure to pay income taxes as part of a deal announced last month with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“It’s a plea deal that is designed to be a slap on the wrist, so Hunter serves no jail time whatsoever, and that it’s real purpose as we’ve discussed is to protect Joe Biden from any exposure to Hunter’s influence-selling and corruptions,” the GOP senator said during the episode.
Cruz, a second-term senator who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for president against Trump in 2016, fashions himself as a media-savvy national political operative — one who is mindful of audience demographics on each platform he appears on.
“If I’m walking through an airport and a woman in her 70s comes up and says, ‘Hey I loved you on TV,’ you know many of the demographic that are watching TV interviews are of an older generation,” the senator said.
“On the other hand, if I’ve got another guy with a ponytail and tattoos comes up and says, ‘Hey, I love what you’re doing,’ I know what the next words he’s going to say. He’s going to mention the podcast.”
Other high-profile lawmakers have also dipped their toes in the podcasting arena. Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) are regulars on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast.
Other up-and-coming lawmakers have used social media to boost their brand, such as freshman Rep. Jeff Jackson (D-N.C.), who has mobilized an aggressive campaign on TikTok to reach voters, and progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has made news with opinions given while speaking on Instagram Live.
Cruz, likewise, makes it clear his goal with his podcast is to drive the news cycle as much as he can.
“It’s a way of raising issues and advancing issues that matter to Texans,” he told The Hill.
Cruz’s podcasting venture has been met with some criticism, including over the ethics of a sitting U.S. senator operating a talk show.
The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics after he reached a syndication agreement with iHeartMedia, one of the largest providers of audio content in the country, contending the deal violated Senate rules on accepting gifts from lobbyists.
iHeartMedia is a registered lobbyist, according to OpenSecrets.
Cruz has said he receives “no financial benefit” from his podcast.
“It’s no surprise Democrats and their allies in the corrupt corporate media take issue with Sen. Cruz’s chart-topping podcast — it allows him to circumvent the media gatekeepers and speak directly to the American people about what is really happening in Washington,” a Cruz spokesman told the Austin American-Statesman at the time.
“Sen. Cruz receives no financial benefit from 'Verdict.' There is no difference between Sen. Cruz appearing on a network television show, a cable news show, or a podcast airing on iHeartMedia.”
While Cruz, who is up for reelection in 2024, still sees some value in traditional cable news hits and radio appearances, he says the show he puts on himself allows for extra flexibility in pushing his agenda.
“Let’s say you’re doing a TV interview and it’s six or eight minutes. That can be valuable if you reach a lot of people,” he said. “But in six or eight minutes, you can’t engage in a whole lot of substance. You can have a few talking points, you can have kind of a clever one-liner, but it’s difficult to have really detailed analysis in a short TV or radio interview. The podcast format, I’ve really grown to like.”