Let’s stipulate a few facts before we get to the main point of this column:
FACT #1: Ted Cruz will probably win reelection this November. Texas has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since the days of Lloyd Bentsen more than 25 years ago. The polling averages give Cruz more than a four-point lead over his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke. For all the talk of Texas being in play, it remains a pretty reliable GOP state. I’m old enough to remember when the Democratic Party upstart was named Wendy Davis, and I remember how that ended. Cruz is in a winnable race and should win it.
FACT #2: O’Rourke is making Cruz sweat an awful lot. As FiveThirtyEight’s Clare Malone wrote: “O’Rourke is a pretty good candidate in a race that was supposed to be a slam dunk for Republicans. He’s raised more than any other Democratic candidate for Senate this cycle.” O’Rourke has made such a good impression that Mick Mulvaney suggested to GOP donors that Cruz could lose this race in Texas. Mulvaney made this suggestion because he said Cruz wasn’t likable, and even conservatives tend to acknowledge that fact.
FACT #3: Cruz does not make unplanned or spontaneous moves in campaigns. Cruz came in second in the 2016 GOP presidential primary; he is a lot of things, but he is not a political idiot. As Nate Silver tweeted, there are times when he can be “all tactics and no strategy,” but there is a well-thought-out purpose to what he is doing.
And now we arrive at the meat of the column, which is Cruz’s latest attack on O’Rourke. Last Friday, Cruz tweeted, “Over and over again Congressman O’Rourke -- when faced with police and law enforcement -- he sides against the police.” As a general rule, it is not surprising for a Texas Republican to run as a law-and-order candidate and pillory his Democratic opponent as soft on crime. This is garden-variety negative campaigning so far.
It is Cruz’s next tweet where one’s eyebrows have to go way, way up. Be sure to watch the video and hear O’Rourke in his own words:
What case is O’Rourke talking about? From Kristine Phillips’s story in The Washington Post on the shooting that O’Rourke references:
Amber Guyger, 30, was taken into custody Sunday evening amid intensifying calls for her arrest and accusations that police are showing deferential treatment to one of their own. The shooting death of Botham Shem Jean, 26, also has become a rallying cry for advocates against police brutality — although much is still unknown about the circumstances surrounding his death.
Jean was shot Thursday night in his apartment building near downtown Dallas. Guyger, still in uniform after working a shift, went inside Jean’s apartment, thinking it was hers, police said. Guyger fired her service weapon and struck Jean, her neighbor. She called 911, and Jean died at a hospital.
This is one of those cases that has generated outrage across the political spectrum. Hot Air’s Allahpundit — someone who could safely be described as right of center — has further thoughts on the case and Cruz’s tweet:
Even the cop doesn’t claim that the victim, Botham Jean, was doing anything wrong. The narrative that’s *most* favorable to her, her own self-serving account, is that she strolled into another person’s home and ended up blowing him away, falsely believing she was in her own pad and that he was there committing some sort of crime. She’s been charged with manslaughter but the charges may be increased to murder.
And the kicker, as O’Rourke notes in the clip, is that somehow the fact that the dead man had marijuana in his apartment was leaked afterward to the media even though it had nothing to do with the incident. I wrote about that 10 days ago, struck by the fact that left and right seemed to react to the leak the same way. There was bipartisan outrage that a person who’d been gunned down in his own home was now being smeared postmortem as a criminal, apparently to try to make the cop’s actions — which were based on a horrendous misjudgment by her own admission — seem reasonable-ish.
So which part of what O’Rourke said is so outrageous that Cruz thought it would work as-is as an attack ad for his own campaign? What’s the message here?
I have been hard-pressed to find a prominent conservative defending Cruz’s tweet or criticizing what O’Rourke said. No one is defending this cop, and pretty much everyone has condemned the pathetic attempts to justify the shooting. But, to repeat a theme, Cruz does not do unintentional things in a campaign, and he has hit O’Rourke on this issue already. What is the tactical angle here?
The only possible reason I can see for showing O’Rourke’s perfectly sane words without comment is because it has nothing to do with his words and everything to do with the visual. O’Rourke delivers this speech at an African American church, and the churchgoers react in an extremely energetic manner. That is the image that Ted Cruz wants his supporters to see, because he thinks it is the image that will mobilize his supporters into disliking O’Rourke and voting against him.
Let me be clear that I have no direct evidence about how Cruz thinks. This deduction comes via the Sherlock Holmes method: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
In this instance, all of the more savory explanations for Cruz’s behavior are impossible. This was not a campaign staffer’s errant tweet; it has been up since last Friday. No one else thinks O’Rourke’s rhetoric in the clip is in any way objectionable.
Cruz did this for a reason. And that reason is that he thinks bigotry will get out the GOP vote in the state of Texas. As Marginal Revolution’s Alex Tabarrok notes: “It’s shocking that Ted Cruz thinks tweeting this helps him. It’s even more shocking if he is right.”