It isn’t surprising that liberals and progressives hate Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been battling Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in the Texas Senate race. He is even more far-right than President Donald Trump—and as much of a nightmare as Trump’s presidency has been, a Cruz presidency would have been even worse. Cruz is not only held in low regard by liberals, progressives, centrists and Democrats—many people in the senator’s own party can’t stand him either. And yet, Cruz will most likely be elected to a second term this Tuesday, November 6.
The list of Republicans who have expressed their total contempt for Cruz ranges from former House Speaker John Boehner to Sen. Lindsey Graham to Rep. Peter King. Former President George W. Bush once said of Cruz, “I just don’t like the guy.” But Bush’s comments were mild compared to what Boehner, Graham and King have had to say.
After leaving the House, Boehner explained during a candid 2016 interview that there were Democrats he liked as people even though he disagreed with their politics. But Boehner described Cruz as “Lucifer in the flesh,” adding, “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”
During the 2016 GOP presidential primary, King declared, “I hate Ted Cruz, and I think I’ll take cyanide if he ever got the nomination.”
It was also during the 2016 election that Graham joked, “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” Granted, it was an inappropriate joke in light of all the U.S. politicians—from President John F. Kennedy in 1963 to President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011—who have become victims of actual violence over the years. But Graham wasn’t joking when he said that Cruz was wildly unpopular in the Senate among both Democrats and fellow Republicans.
Cruz is so unlikable that even far-right author and troll Ann Coulter attacked him via Twitter on February 11, 2016, declaring, “Cruz is a sleazy, Rovian liar.” Liberals and progressives seldom agree with anything Coulter has to say, but that might be the one time Coulter and the left managed to find some common ground.
While so many Republicans hate Cruz with a passion, Beto O’Rourke is well-liked in Democratic circles—and even if he loses on Tuesday, he probably has a bright future in his party. Activist G.S. Potter (founder of the Strategic Institute of Intersectional Policy) has asserted that if O’Rourke is charismatic enough to pull off a U.S. Senate victory in Republican-leaning Texas, it will be only a matter of time before he runs for president. On November 1, an Emerson College poll showed Cruz leading O’Rourke by only 3%.
So if Cruz is infinitely unlikable and O’Rourke inspires so many positive feelings, why is a narrow Cruz victory the most likely outcome this Tuesday, November 6? It comes down to tribalism and the fact that the GOP has such a strong ground game in the Lone Star State.
If O’Rourke were running against Cruz in a swing state like Ohio, Florida, Virginia or Pennsylvania—let alone Massachusetts or California—he would probably be winning by a landslide. But he’s running in Texas, which is by no means the reddest of the red states but is still too Republican-leaning to be considered a swing state.
Texas politics are much more nuanced than many non-Texans realize. While Trump carried Nebraska in 2016 by a whopping 26%, his victory over Hillary Clinton in Texas was only 9%. Texas has become a majority non-white state; further, major cities like Houston, El Paso, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin lean Democrat. And as Potter has noted, Democrats would be able to make Texas a swing state if they registered enough Latinos and African-Americans and could get them to the polls consistently—which is easier said than done. Texas Republicans are masters of voter suppression, and the GOP—for all its terrible ideas—has enormous disciple as a party.
In Texas, older white Republican voters are great at showing up on Election Day, and many of them are going to be showing up this Tuesday to help make sure that a Democrat doesn’t win a Republican-held seat in the U.S. Senate. Nonetheless, the fact that O’Rourke has been trailing Cruz only by single digits demonstrates that Texas is not a lost cause for Democrats—who have their share of mayoral, city council and House of Representatives victories in Texas but have a much harder time in the Lone Star State when it comes to presidential, U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.
As detested as Cruz is by many of his fellow Republicans, they would rather hold their nose and vote for him than see a Democrat take over his U.S. Senate seat. And even though that seat will likely remain in GOP hands on Tuesday, that won’t make Graham, Boehner and all the other anti-Cruz Republicans hate him any less.