The first rule of campaigning, as they say, is to make your opponent seem as cool, relatable, exciting, and attractive as possible. At least, that’s the strategy the Texas GOP and their main man Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) seem to be trying in their quest to take down his Democratic opponent, Texas representative Beto O’Rourke.
It started last week, after O’Rourke announced he would not be debating Cruz after the Texas senator, he said, tried to dictate the terms of the debate.
“So Beto has been ducking debates with Senator Ted Cruz. We can’t imagine why, but we do have a few ideas…”
So Beto has been ducking debates with Senator Ted Cruz. We can't imagine why, but we do have a few ideas… pic.twitter.com/3n2HtwY9pQ
— Texas GOP (@TexasGOP) August 28, 2018
The picture (I encourage you to expand it), shows O’Rourke holding a skateboard. It’s an apparent reference to an incredible video of O’Rourke skateboarding in a Whataburger parking lot. I cannot stress enough how much you should watch this video if you haven’t already done so.
Their first “idea” for why O’Rourke didn’t debate Cruz came an hour or so later, when the GOP tweeted, “Maybe Beto can’t debate Ted Cruz because he already had plans…”
Maybe Beto can’t debate Ted Cruz because he already had plans… pic.twitter.com/LdqKTh3yK4
— Texas GOP (@TexasGOP) August 28, 2018
The tweet showed a picture of O’Rourke in a dress along with his band, looking incredibly cool and fun.
About an hour later, they offered another “idea” about why O’Rourke might not debate, tweeting, along with an old mug shot of O’Rourke’s, “There’s always the chance that Robert ‘Beto’ O’Rourke won’t debate Senator Cruz because he got into a hazy situation…”
There's always the chance that Robert “Beto” O’Rourke won’t debate Senator Cruz because he got into a hazy situation… pic.twitter.com/4nmd42AEkl
— Texas GOP (@TexasGOP) August 29, 2018
There’s a lot going on here, but let’s start with the fact that O’Rourke has been very open about his DUI arrest in 1998, and just days before the Texas GOP tweeted his mugshot, he used the experience — which he called a “serious mistake for which there is no excuse” — to write about criminal justice reform in the Houston Chronicle.
“But those mistakes did not ultimately define me or stop me from what I wanted to do in my life or how I wanted to contribute to the success of my family and my community — as a father, small business owner, city council member, and congressman,” O’Rourke wrote. “The chance that I had, and which I have made the most of, is denied to too many of our fellow Texans, particularly those who don’t look like me or have access to the same opportunities that I did.”
The mugshot tweet was something of a viral hit, with the picture of O’Rourke and his band coming as a close second — but not really in the way the Texas GOP had hoped. While some responded by recalling how transparent O’Rourke had been about his arrest record, many more people were given reason to wonder: Why is the Texas GOP tweeting a bunch of pictures of O’Rourke in which he looked really hot?
My editor made it clear that this could not be a personal assertion, so let’s take a brief tour of the Twitter search, “Beto hot.”
why'd they tweet this photo of beto looking hot as fuck https://t.co/bX4rJIknpj
— libby watson (@libbycwatson) August 29, 2018
Not sure posting photos of Beto O'Rourke looking super hot in the '90s is the best strategy, but I'm gonna assume the Texas GOP know what they're doing.
— Maggie Serota (@maggieserota) August 29, 2018
Beto is HOT send tweet
— 🌙💫🌘 (@jahneeeeeeeeee) September 1, 2018
the only thing that the texas gop has made me realize is how hot beto o’rourke is
— scott (@klopfuh) September 2, 2018
Anyone wanna join my GroupMe where I just talk about how hot Beto is
— Collin Bollin (@BriceCollin) September 4, 2018
It isn’t the first time the GOP and the Cruz campaign have, in their effort to cut O’Rourke down, only managed to make him look excellent.
Just one day before the tweets about the debate, the Cruz campaign put out a video highlighting a recent question O’Rourke answered at a town hall about protests during the national anthem. Asked by an audience member what he thought of the protests, O’Rourke went on a long monologue highlighting civil rights protests of yore and passionately defended both the right to kneel and the right to disagree with people who kneel.
The video went mega-viral, so naturally the Cruz campaign clipped segments of the answer, including shots of a giant crowd applauding their opponent, and shared it over every social network they could.
For reasons beyond understanding, though certainly no one is complaining, the strategy to keep pointing out how utterly cool O’Rourke continued through Labor Day.
“A #LaborDay picnic is a great place to bring the kids,” Cruz tweeted. “A Beto O’Rourke rally? Not so much…”
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) September 3, 2018
The accompanying spliced video is basically just clips of O’Rourke giving impassioned speeches, as a narrator says, “Beto O’Rourke wants to be a senator, so he’s showing up across Texas, sharing his wit.”
In one video, with the curse words bleeped out, O’Rourke says, “Fuck that!” In another, on a stage, he says, “How fucked up is that?” Another, he says, “What the fuck are these guys doing?”
For some reason it then cuts to a video of O’Rourke, not saying anything, just getting his sweat on while on a jog with a group of women. Then, another video of him saying the rarest phrase for any politician to ever utter, “I really fucked up.”
“If Beto shows up in your town, maybe keep the kids at home,” the narrator says, before cutting to another video of Beto saying, “Because this is fucked up.”
The video then, for reasons, again, beyond me, cuts to O’Rourke on what I believe is a different jog, as the narrator says, “Beto O’Rourke, he’s showing the [beep] up.”
I first saw this video more than an hour ago, and I honestly haven’t stopped screaming since. Not only is it hilarious that the Cruz campaign wants to make the Senate race about how his opponent talks like, you know, a normal human person from Texas, but also “showing up” is O’Rourke’s whole thing.
O’Rourke’s whole campaign strategy, distilled to its essence, has simply been to show up in every single Texas county and talk to people. He’s plowed across Texas in a van, drawing huge crowds even in small, conservative communities. And as the Texas GOP seems hellbent on highlighting, he’s been really cool and looked really hot while doing it.
Could Cruz, a known mime, be a little bit spooked? Recent polls have O’Rourke within a stone’s throw of Cruz. On average, he’s been leading by less than 4.5 points, and one recent poll from Emerson had O’Rourke behind by just one percent.
It’s probably too soon for Cruz to panic, given the historic volatility of polling in Texas. But as FiveThirtyEight’s Dhrumil Mehta and Janie Velencia point out, that Emerson poll “found both candidates with similar favorability ratings, but 38 percent of Texans either felt neutral toward O’Rourke or said they had not heard of him, compared to only 19 percent who said the same about Cruz.” It may not be a wise strategy to keep pointing out to Texans that O’Rourke can fully come get it. It could be especially bad, in fact, if word got out that O’Rourke routinely does fun things like join Willie Nelson on stage for a Fourth of July performance of “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
For the sake of the internet — and anyone in Texas who feels like they deserve better than a celebrated zodiac killer-lookalike dismantling their health care — Cruz will hopefully continue to fight off his opponent’s challenge by making O’Rourke seem like the coolest and hottest dude in the Lone Star state.