ROBERT AND RAFAEL BATTLE AS BETO AND TED
Down in Texas there is a consequential battle for the Senate going on between Democrat Robert “Beto” O’Rourke and the Republican first term incumbant, Rafael “Ted” Cruz. There are some oddities: Beto O’Rourke is not Spanish but, having been raised in El Paso on the Texas side of the Mexican border, speaks perfect Spanish. Ted (Rafael really) Cruz is Spanish but, having learned Spanish in school, does not speak it as well. Speaking Spanish well is important for Texas candidates. It’s important because of the near twenty nine million people in Texas, 38% are Hispanic and their percentage constantly grows (as of 2011, 70% of Texas children younger than age one were non-white).
Ted Cruz is an anomaly in the Senate. Erudite, educated in the best schools (Princeton and Harvard Law) he could easily win the title of most hated man in the Senate. His fellow Senators are less than happy with him. In 2013, he forced a shutdown of the entire government all by himself by giving a self-serving twenty one hour speech against the inclusion in the budget of funding for the Affordable Care Act. It was a doomed effort from the start, angrily opposed by Democratic and Republican colleagues alike. His desire to run for the presidency in 2016, based on sheer publicity, publicity of any kind, caused him to treat the Senators he had just joined like props in an all-Cruz psychodrama. If Ted Cruz is not really a psychopath, he certainly could, without much preparation, play one.
Now, the Ted Cruz campaign for reelection in Texas is in big trouble. His campaign seems to being overtaken by the almost comically energetic Beto O’Rourke. And what is the reaction of his political party and many of his fellow Republicans? President Trump has pledged to go to Texas to raise money for a man he has continuously insulted. His fellow Senate Republicans are desperately trying to raise money and ride to his rescue. That is hardly because his fellow Senators have developed a genuine appreciation for a magically reformed Ted Cruz.
The Republicans now run a real risk of losing their majority in the Senate as well as in the House. With the iconic John McCain gone, the balance in the Senate now sits effectively at 51–49. McCain’s seat has been filled by retired Senator John Kyl, but that probably is only temporary. Kyl’s newly elected replacement in January may well be a Democrat. The Republicans in the Senate dare not lose any member, even someone self-centered enough to be almost universally loathed. Cruz must be rescued.
The majority of Texas voters had long been conservative and, like the entire historically confederate South, Democratic, very conservatively Democratic. Then, just as George W. Bush was elected, a skillfully planned crusade led by George W. Bush’s operative Karl Rove (Bush’s brain), caused Texas voters to morph into conservative Republicans. Now, that transformation is being quickly modified by a growing liberal movement in Texas large cities. Those liberal islands, plus the potential for a larger Hispanic vote, give Democrats in Texas some hope that Beto O’Rourke can pull himself victoriously across the electoral finish line. And, that he can drag a number of down ballot Democratic candidates over the line with him. It would mark the beginning of the end of a political era.
Beto O’Rourke appears to be a kind of Bobby Kennedy reborn. He is running in Texas, as a progressive (he is fond of saying that the only thing in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos). At 47, he can, and frequently has been, assumed to be one of the Kennedy offspring. The energetic O’Rourke has managed to personally visit all of the 254 counties in Texas, some many times. The publicity growing out of all the well-attended campaign events that he has held have helped him capture the imagination of the Texas public. He has become the pied piper from El Paso. And, although he does not take money from Political Action Committees, he has managed to far outraise Ted Cruz in campaign dollars.
The reaction of the public to O’Rourke spells a potential tsunami in Texas politics. Ted Cruz may be uniquely unattractive as a candidate but he does support the positions that conservative Texas voters have, up till now, seemed attracted to. Cruz opposes any form of gun control, would criminalize abortion, has gone out of his way to oppose the Affordable Care Act, wants to be tougher on immigration. Beto O’Rourke in a way revolutionary for Texas politicians, favors an expansion of the A.C.A, favors increased gun registration and control, and certainly does not favor walling off Mexico.
The rise of someone like O’Rourke was probably predictable. The Republicans, having gained complete control of the government, seem to favor nothing that will improve the lives of the people who vote for them (unless those people long for the newfound freedom to swim in polluted water downstream from coal mines). Other than lowering taxes for the very well off and vastly increasing the debt (a projected trillion dollars this year, a trillion is a thousand billion, a billion is a thousand million) they simply have done nothing. They have won by manipulating the anger of their supporters.
The national Republicans have lost their way. That being the case, it is probably inevitable that leaders will rise who are transparently goodhearted and who seem to promise a brighter future. In the polls, which began with Ted Cruz far ahead, the projected outcome is now virtually even. Momentum (what George H.W. Bush used to call “Big Mo”) is clearly with O’Rourke. It certainly is no wonder that the backers of the personally repellent Ted Cruz are worried. They know that a successful Beto O’Rourke campaign may inspire others. It could also be the beginning of a return a healthier political world for all of us.