Bun B's Wisconsin Dispatch, Part 2: Ted Cruz and the Women Who Love Him
The rapper and VICE correspondent heads to a Women for Cruz event and learns how the Texas senator is trying to appeal to conservative ladies.
Bun B in Madison, Wisconsin. All photos by Abazar Khayami
Editor's Note: You might know Bun B as the Texas-based rapper, professor, and activist who's one half of the legendary Houston duo UGK. He's also VICE's newest political correspondent, reporting on the ground from the campaign trail of the strangest presidential election in recent memory.
Wednesday started off kinda shitty. When I woke up this morning, I made a serious mistake of watching The Today Show interview Donald Trump. He just can't help himself: When he's not lying he's simply evading questions altogether. It's way too early in the morning to hear someone lie so fucking bad. But I'm not complaining—I've had way worse days before.
It's our second day in Wisconsin, and the first stop is in Madison, the state capital, where Texas Senator Ted Cruz is rolling out his "Women for Cruz" coalition. The issue of how the Republican candidates deal with women has been deep in the news cycle this week, thanks to the recent wife-bashing that's been going on in the primary race. It started before the Utah caucuses, when an anti-Trump super PAC sent out a nude photo of Melania Trump from an old GQ story. Trump blamed the incident on Cruz, and retweeted a not-too-flattering photo of Ted's wife, Heidi. Since then, Cruz has been loudly defending his wife's integrity, in the process perhaps winning over some female voters. Which brings us to Wednesday's campaign event, at a Sheraton Hotel in Madison, aimed specifically at conservative women.
As we walk into the lobby to pick up our press credentials, the first thing I see is a crazy-ass poster of Ted Cruz, shirtless and covered in tattoos with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. The campaign is passing out the posters to supporters, and I spot an older woman holding one. She tells me that she hears the cigarette is fake. God bless you, hun.
The vibe here is completely different than the one in Janesville on Tuesday, where I went to a Trump rally. First of all, the security is almost nonexistent. There are no metal detectors, no SWAT team on the roof, no Secret Service wanding reporters or emptying out their bags. Getting into Cruz's event is as easy as one, two—no need for three. Some of this might have to do with protesters—there aren't any here. Apparently no one wants to protest Ted Cruz. That's not to say he doesn't have detractors; they just don't feel the need to congregate outside the Sheraton and argue with the ladies coming out to support him today. Trump is holding a rally in Green Bay, so Wisconsin's protesters have bigger fish to fry today.
The other difference is the music. At Cruz events, the tracks are all country or southern rock; when we walk into the Sheraton conference room, Kid Rock is singing "Born Free." Eventually, though, the room goes silent and Rebecca Hagelin, the national co-chair for Women for Cruz, comes out to introduce the event. She talks a lot about how conservatives want what's best for their families; about how parents, not the government, should decide how children are educated; about how terrorists are walking free around the United States; and how the government should start monitoring them already. Then she introduces the man who "gets it": Ted Cruz.
He enters to a round of polite applause, smiles that really awkward smile of his, and goes into a story about how his young daughter hates politics. Cruz, of course, claims to agree, but adds that the current election is "bigger than politics." Then the pandering begins, with a line about how women are not a special interest group, and that "all issues are women's issues." But Cruz himself is just the warm-up act today. After a short speech, he bows out, introducing three women who will make his case for him: His mother Eleanor, his wife, and Carly Fiorina, the one-time 2016 candidate who dropped out after the New Hampshire primary and endorsed Cruz.
The audience is invited to sit back and watch, while these ladies talk about Ted Cruz. It's a strange setup, more like a political version of This Is Your Life than a real campaign rally. His mom talks about the candidate's youth, which, according to his campaign narrative, was spent memorizing the US Constitution and speaking at Rotary Clubs. But her general message is one that most people can get behind: that moms should pay attention to their children, nurture their gifts, and allow them to express themselves. That's a good mom right there. Mine did that.
Heidi then speaks about her family's Christian faith, and how she wants to instill in her two daughters a desire to make the world a better place. She's a confident speaker, and her points are clear and concise—I can see why Trump might see her as a threat. Later, Fiorina talks about the pain of losing a child to drugs, and its a powerful moment, a glimpse of humanity in the political circus. The conversation seems to be resonating in this room, and while there probably won't be any juicy sound bytes for the press to mainline, maybe politics shouldn't always be about that.
After the show is over, I talk to Hagelin about whether, as a conservative woman, she's offended by the sexist undertones of the current Republican presidential race. Unsurprisingly, she is, but she adds that what troubles her more than the sexist tone of the race itself is the fact that more conservative men aren't offended.
In the afternoon, we head back to Milwaukee, for the last stop of the day. And this one is more my style. The homie G-Eazy is in town on his tour, and it's just my luck. He has a crazy fan base, and they'll be going apeshit at his show here tonight. Plus the homie Kevin Kellett, one of the illest barbers I've ever met, is here with him, so I can get a fresh cut tonight too. And you know what happens in a barber shop: Chopping up game!
Kevin's from New York, which is holding its own primaries on April 19, the week after Wisconsin's contests on Tuesday. He wonders how Trump, with all his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, will play in America's melting pot. He tells me he likes Bernie Sanders for the same reason he believes people like Trump: The candidate says what people want to hear, regardless of whether or not it's achievable. I get that. Kev's always come across as a sharp guy, and his insight is interesting. Plus, his blade game is no joke. It doesn't take long for me to look like a new man. Good looking, my G.
Later, I talk to the rap James Dean himself, Bay Area's own G-Eazy. He comes from a liberal family, but says his own political opinions aren't fully formed, so he doesn't mix music and politics. The people at his show are voters, though, and when I talk to some of them, I'm surprised to find a mix of Democrats and Republicans, with a couple of independents mixed in. Wisconsin is not a lackadaisical state, politically. There doesn't really seem to much of a middle ground when it comes to political involvement here: People who vote in Wisconsin are not scared to be vocal about their choices—and people who don't vote are happy to tell you why.
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