Just a few years ago, Ted Cruz was on top of the world. The Republican had handily won his Senate election bid, enjoyed relatively high approval ratings in his home state of Texas, and was a strong contender for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2016 primary. Yes, he has always been a kind of gross, wet little shithead who couldn’t approximate a normal human conversation if his life depended on it, but for a long time he was pretty successful despite this significant handicap. And after a lifetime seemingly spent on a singular quest for the most powerful office in the country, his defeat at the hands of a man who dicktripped his way into politics seemingly on a lark catalyzed one of the most spectacular slow-motion downfalls in modern politics. And let me tell you after watching a lot of Cruz TV ads and following his social accounts for the last few months—Ted Cruz is fucking desperate, man.
Putting aside the absolute abomination that is our current presidential reality, watching Donald Trump—who cannot form a single sentence without four different tangential brainfarts interrupting it—absolutely humiliate Ted “Princeton debate team” Cruz during the 2016 primary was a sight to behold. But what really brought a tear of joy to my eye was after Trump had thoroughly battered Cruz with a veritable cornucopia of slanders—everything from his wife being ugly to his father plotting the JFK assassination—was watching Cruz dive to the ground to sloppily lick Trump’s proverbial boots. Honestly I think the whole thing was best summarized in a single iconic photo.
Smash cut to 2018, and Cruz’s slide down the politics shit-tube has only accelerated. He is fighting for his political life against Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic and energetic young challenger who could actually turn a statewide Texas election for the Democrats. (Cruz has been leading in the polls, but not by an insurmountable amount.) And Cruz seems to have decided that there is only one real route to victory for him, especially in a GOP landscape that was bulldozed and redeveloped by the man who had humiliated him in 2016—a man who’s approval he now needs. This has resulted in some pretty wild-swing attacks on O’Rourke, many of them coming from Cruz-associated social media accounts, pro-Cruz PAC television spots, and even Cruz himself.
The most pathetic anti-Beto attack came from the Texas GOP Twitter account, which apparently wanted to bring voters attention to how uh, conventionally attractive and cool the Democrat was back in college? It’s clear that the Cruz campaign meant for this to prompt a “liberal homo” response from the online community, but shockingly more people took this opportunity to dunk on Cruz and his general pasty lameness than liked the original post.
After the Republicans tried this same asshat gambit with O’Rourke’s decades-old mugshot, it became clear that Cruz was taking a very specific strategy and targeting a very specific demographic: angry, elderly white Texans who suffer from advanced Fox News poisoning—increasingly the GOP’s saving grace. On his recent TV spots, Cruz goes after O’Rourke on some extremely Fox News red-meat issues such as “Does Beto O'Rourke think refusing to stand for the national anthem is disrespectful?” (replete with lots of troop shots), “Beto O'Rourke blasted police... as the new Jim Crow,” and “[establishment Republicans'] misguided plan would have given Obama the authority to admit Syrian refugees, including ISIS terrorists” (when discussing this influx of ISIS into our nation, Cruz boldly declares, “that’s just wrong”).
Last month, Cruz posted a video of O’Rourke addressing a black congregation in Texas, and expressing the (extremely reasonable) position that the off-duty police officer who shot Botham Jean in his own home should not have done that. A lot of people, myself included, were baffled as to the point of this, but it slowly dawned on me and others that Cruz had posted this video specifically to appeal to people so deeply racist that they would be outraged O’Rourke criticized any police officer for anything. Cruz even weepily followed all of this up by repeatedly claiming at his rallies that the video was proof O’Rourke did not support Texas’s police officers.
Cruz is likely embracing the negative because he can’t get a positive news cycle to save his life. He has no friends in the Senate purely because of his personality. He can’t stop getting trolled by young people. He gets run out of restaurants. He needs to kiss up to Trump to win the election. The headlines you see about poor, soggy Ted do not paint the picture of a man on the rise, or even a man who is keeping it together. If you’re familiar with how momentum works in sports, you probably get the idea.
As the November election grows nearer, I can only imagine that Ted will get even sweatier and dig more deeply into shitty right-wing tropes. His most high-profile "accomplishments" in the Senate were failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his hand in the 2013 government shutdown, neither of which make for a great stump speech. Given the current state of politics, that might be enough for him to win reelection, Betomania or no. But I would hope that enough voters are beginning to see Cruz in a new light—not as a maverick who stands by his principles or has any real interest in improving the lives of the people he represents, but as someone who will say literally anything to cling to power.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Krang T. Nelson on Twitter.