Anatomy of a Ted Cruz joke

The setup

Demonstrators with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals crashed a Sen. Ted Cruz campaign event on Saturday, handing out barbecued tofu outside a restaurant in Columbus, Tex.

The punchline

“I’ve got to say, they summed up the entire election,” Cruz told the crowd inside the restaurant. “If Texas elects a Democrat, they’re going to ban barbecue across the state.”


The second punchline

Oh, he wasn’t done.

“You want to talk about an issue to mobilize the people, and I’m talking everybody,” Cruz continued, as reported by the Austin-American Statesman. “So I want to thank PETA and I do want to tell PETA you’re going to have to disclose to the [Federal Election Commission] that by coming and protesting and giving away tofu, that you have given an in-kind contribution to my campaign by demonstrating just how bad things can get.”

The crowd inside the restaurant laughed. Cruz had been smiling as he spoke, the Statesman wrote — but “just because Cruz is smiling doesn’t mean he’s just kidding around.”

Wait we forgot part of the setup

If you don’t understand the implied relationship between barbecue, tofu, and Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who has surged to within a few points of Cruz in recent polls, then please refer to a preliminary joke Cruz made a week earlier, at a campaign event in Humble.

“Liberals desperately want to turn Texas blue,” Cruz said. “They want us to be just like California, right down to tofu and silicon and dyed hair.” He was smiling, but also shouting, and had given the example as an example of the far left’s “dangerous . . . level of fury and rage.”

Anyway, the PETA members who showed up on Saturday weren’t there on behalf of O’Rourke or any Democrats. In the words of their news release, they just wanted to show Cruz “how delicious tofu can be.”

The third, fourth and fifth punchlines

A day after his campaign stop, Cruz made another Beto/barbecue joke.

His spokeswoman made another one, coining the hashtag”#AbolishBBQ,” which did not go viral. Then she just started tweeting about barbecue a lot.

Cruz kept it up, retweeting other people’s jokes and articles about his own joke. The campaign’s barbecue fun lasted into Monday, by which time not everyone in the national audience was laughing.

Is he even actually joking?

The Statesman remembered that one of the last times Cruz mixed politics and humor, his campaign aired a radio jingle that falsely accused O’Rourke of hiding his real name. A furor over the ad eventually led Cruz into a contentious CNN interview where he explained, “It is just kind of a sense of humor.”

Likewise, a Statesman reporter suspected that joking or not, Cruz may have been trying to associate O’Rourke “with an unTexan, pro-tofu, weirdo vegan, animus toward BBQ” in the minds of his audience.

Whatever humor Cruz intended was lost in many of the news headlines.

“Searching for new wedge issue, Cruz says O’Rourke will ban barbecue,” was the Statesman’s.


Esquire: “Ted Cruz Has Nothing Left But Culture War Gibberish.”

And a good portion of Twitter was just confused:

The confirmation of the punchline

Three days after Cruz delivered his line at Schobels Restaurant in Columbus (which isn’t even a barbecue place, by the way; it’s homestyle), The Washington Post reached out to the senator’s campaign team for details on what exactly he was trying to convey.

“He used three laughing emojis after the tweet,” spokeswoman Catherine Frazier wrote back. “Of course it was a joke.”


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