On the Going On’s in Nearby Texas

Although we’re comfortably fifty miles of Kansas and a whole big ol’ state of Oklahoma away from Texas, there’s no looking away from the surprisingly close Senate race going on down there. Incumbent Sen. Rafael “Ted” Cruz should be well ahead in such a reliably Republican state, but all the polls show Democratic nominee Rep. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke well within striking distance, and it has national implications for both politics and country-and-western music, two matters of great importance to us.
All politics is indeed local, but Texas is such an outsized state that we follow its politics closely, or at least closely enough to understand that it’s a darn complicated state where such an unapologetic liberal such as O’Rourke is getting within the margin of error against such as unabashedly conservative as Cruz, and to know that what’s going on in the equally dysfunctional Democratic and Republican parties in the rest of the nation have something to do with it.
Despite its admirable stubborn streak the great state of Texas is by now very much a part of the modern media world, where that O’Rourke fellow is undeniably more telegenic than that Cruz guy, and we think that has a lot to do with those poll numbers. O’Rourke is objectively youthful and trim and handsome, can talk convincingly about growing up in the multi-racial yet exceptionally crime-free border town of El Paso, which he currently represents in Congress, and he has the same well-spoken appeal even when he spouts the national Democratic party’s most far-left looniness.
Cruz’ carefully considered and well-stated conservatism won him a national collegiate debate championship and such a successful tenure as a Texas state attorney that he was elected to the Senate, where he was lauded by all the conservative talk radio show hosts for single-handedly causing a government shutdown overcome thing or another, and he finished as the runner-up in the last Republican presidential primary. Even so, he’s not a noticeably handsome fellow nor an especially likable guy, no matter how sound those conservative principles he espouses might be.
So for, alas, Cruz has run a clumsy campaign. He started it off after the Democratic primary by sneering that Robert O’Rourke went by “Beto” only to endure him to Latino voters, but O”Rourke responded with a kindergarten photo of himself in a “Beto” sweatshirt, and rightly noted that the ethnically Cuban Rafael Cruz had long by “Ted” to endear himself to more anglophile Texans, and from the start Cruz has been leading with his chin. He’s made some hay of a long driving-under-the-influence charge, but President George W. Bush won the state’s electoral votes despite the same blot, and many women on “twitter” remarked that O’Rourke looked handsome in the arrest photo, and attempts to shame O’Rourke for his past membership in a punk rock band have fallen flat in the state that gave America both Ronnie D. and the Buttonhole Surfers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has named Texas as one of the several races where he might lose his majority, and another administration official has also told the press that Cruz might not be “likable enough” to win reelection even in Texas. Back when they were vying for the Republican nomination, President Donald Trump opined that “The truth is he’s a nasty guy. No one likes him, nobody anywhere likes him once they got to to know him. He’s got an edge that’s not good. You can’t make deal with people like that, and it’s not a good thing, not a good thing for the country. He’s a very nasty guy.”
Trump also peddled “birther” conspiracies about Cruz’ admitted and well-documented Canadian birthplace, “re-tweeted” a “meme” suggesting that his third wife was way hotter than that the bride of Cruz’ youth, and nominated The National Enquirer for a Pulitzer prize after its article suggesting that Cruz’ dad was in on the JFK assassination. Cruz responded that Trump was a narcissist and pathological liar and utterly unfit for the presidency, and a cowardly punk who had better not ever again mention Cruz’ wife, and even at the Republican convention he was urging his party and fellow conservatives to “vote your conscience.”
Since then Trump and Cruz have buried the proverbial hatchet, if you’ll forgive a potentially politically incorrect proverb. Family pride notwithstanding, Cruz has realized that he needs Trump’s support in a state the president carried by almost the usual Republican margins, Trump has realized he badly needs another Republican Senate seat to preserve his razor-thin margin in the chamber, especially if the House races go as badly as expected, and thus they have achieved the Art of the Deal. Trump is promising to pack the biggest stadium in Texas — where everything is the biggest — with a rally on Cruz’ behalf, and Cruz has promised to sign off on whatever cockamamie thing Trump might think of.
Our cynical guess from two states away is that this tawdry show of Republican unity should be enough to put Cruz past the finish line in his race with O’Rourke, but these days there’s no telling, even in Texas or even up here in Kansas. The Democrat down in Texas is bringing in enough denotations from Texas and the other 49 states to put up billboards along the busy interstates that remind motorists of how much Trump once hated “Lyin’ Ted” and how much Cruz once hated the sociopathic Trump, however, and their past quotes are more are more convincing than their current posterior-kissing, so we expect a close even in reliably Republican Texas.
Even if “Beto” does lose a close race, at least he’ll have inflicted sone damage on the Republican party, and will have a bright future in the Democratic party. All the time and money and presidential attention the Republicans now have to invest in a reliably Republican Senate seat must now be diverted from all those other close Senate races that the for-now majority leader is worrying about, and O’Rourke is getting much attention and many donations from all those Democratic states on those crazy coastal areas, and he seems by far the better guy to have a beer with at Kirby’s Beer Store or your local dive, and he might ultimately outlast Cruz.
Which seems a shame, as we quite disagree with most of this liberal nonsense that O’Rourke is so charmingly peddling, and are more inclined to agree to with most of the right-wing rhetoric that Cruz is so so convincingly but un-charmingly peddling. If it’s a choice between O’Rourke style progressivism and Trump-ism we’re not sure how we’d vote, but if it’s a choice between O’Rourke and Trump and what Cruz was once saying about Trump back when he voted for him and shook his hand during the ’16 Kansas Republican caucus, we’ll let the good people of Texas decide.
Meanwhile, Willie Nelson is scheduled to play a concert for O’Rourke, and we read that many of his reliably Republican Texas fans are appalled. So far as we can tell they never noted the long pony-tail and tie-dyed shirts of the “Red Headed Stranger,” nor the red cast of his eyes and the ever-present reefer in his lips, and based on his true-to-God country singing they assumed he was politically simpatico. Nelson never was, we hate to say, but with Johnny Cash and George Jones and and Merle Haggard having died in the past few years he and Dolly Parton are the last singing voices of the last great era of country music, and we much prefer it to all this recent politics on the glorious plains and elsewhere.

— Bud Norman

Learning to Like Mitt

Mitt Romney’s greatest appeal to his supporters at the outset of his campaign, to be perfectly honest, was that he was not Barack Obama. That remains Romney’s biggest selling point, to continue with the honesty shtick, but lately we’ve noticed that his supporters seem to like him because of who he is almost as much as because of who he is not.

There are polling data to bolster this impression, but mostly it has been formed by listening to alternative media and conversations with a variety of the regular folks we routinely encounter. Our own growing regard for Romney is part of it, too, as we were as skeptical as anyone at the start of his presidential quest.

We rabid right-wing sorts were initially put off largely because of that health care bill Romney championed while governor of Massachusetts, a government-heavy that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the hated Obamacare bill, but also by the fact that he had once stooped so low as to serve as the governor of Massachusetts. Such failings would ordinarily disqualify a person from the Republican presidential nomination, but as it became clear over the course of an embarrassing primary campaign that the more consistently conservative alternatives were unlikely to survive the inevitable attack ads and media caricatures he was reluctantly chosen as standard-bearer. Not a single Republican of our acquaintance thought he was worse than the incumbent, not by a long shot, but neither was there any enthusiasm for the ticket.

Gradually, though, Romney seems to have won over his party’s base. The ivy-covered conservative media based on the east coast were on board all along, but eventually even the proudly disreputable voices of talk radio began to stop nit-picking and start praising their candidate. The hugely influential Rush Limbaugh is now an unabashed fan, and Mark Levin, the unbearably dour talker who is usually even more scathing toward anyone not 99 and 44/100ths percent pure than he is toward the actual enemies, has also lately been laying off the criticism. Numerous chats with bona fide grassroots types have revealed a similar growing approval, with our most reluctant right-wing friends now expressing a genuine admiration for Romney.

The transformation began with Romney’s bold choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, a clear signal that he understood the severity of the nation’s fiscal problems and the need for politically risky solutions, but we sense that the candidate’s forthright defense of capitalism, the Constitution, and an old-fashioned Americanism has been even more important. Most conservatives have a keen sense of a candidate’s sincerity, and Romney’s background in business makes his paeans to the free market utterly believable in a way that Obama’s recent praise of capitalism do not.

In a rather neat trick, Romney seems to have solidified his conservative support while simultaneously winning over those incomprehensible moderate types who are often thought to be scared silly by conservatism. Because the change appears to have occurred since the first debate, which drew an unusually large audience, we’ll attribute this to the dangerously uninformed getting a first-hand look at Romney and noticing that he bears little resemblance to the demonic figure portrayed in the Obama campaign’s over-the-top negative advertising. They might have also noticed that he’s a strikingly intelligent, competent type, qualities that have as much appeal to middle-of-the-roaders as to conservatives, and that he’s been remarkably pleasant even as he endures the obvious efforts of the media to suggest otherwise.

Romney obviously hasn’t endeared himself to the president’s most stubbornly loyal supporters, of course, and instead has begun to provoke the same sort of red-hot hatred that was once reserved for the likes of George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. That’s a good sign, too, though, because it suggests that Romney’s rising popularity has them scared.

— Bud Norman