At a press conference at the Texas State Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, Texas GOP chair Allen West dropped to the ground and did thirty push-ups, while the crowd counted along and cheered him on.
Why did he do that?
A journalist arrived late to the press conference, and West challenged that reporter (whose identity, alas, was not disclosed by Jane C. Timm, the NBC News reporter who tweeted about the incident) to perform thirty push-ups, as though he were a high school football coach chastising a tardy player. When the reporter “‘respectfully’ declined,” West opted to do the push-ups himself.
… Why did he do that?
Why does Rice play Texas? Why go to the moon? West did those push-ups because he could, baby. It would be bad form to challenge someone else to do push-ups and then be unwilling or unable to do them yourself, even if it’s also bad form to, you know, challenge another adult who is not a rookie on your NFL team to do push-ups in a professional environment. Presumably, part of the intention was to embarrass the reporter who declined to accept West’s calisthenics instruction—but watching the video, it’s also clear that at a fairly early point in the process, the thrill of the challenge overtakes West, and doing the push-ups becomes its own reward. Endorphins!
Did he get to thirty?
He definitely did! And he did so in 22 seconds, which is quite fast. Now, speed isn’t necessarily conducive to good form, so maybe there’s a better question to ask: Were they good push-ups? That’s a bit subjective, so I asked strength coach Jacob Cloud about West’s form. Cloud—who started his business, Vintage Strong, in Austin in 2011—acknowledged that the push-ups, shall we say, lacked a bit of depth. West’s chest doesn’t get particularly close to the ground, and while his elbows perhaps approach 90 degrees, they don’t appear to break that angle. “For a guy obsessed with guns, you’d think he’d want to get his triceps a little more involved,” he said.
Come on, as if you could do better.
Eh, maybe not! We’d suspect that West—a former Army lieutenant colonel who recently celebrated his sixtieth birthday—is also capable of better push-ups, probably in a different setting than in the Capitol rotunda on a spring afternoon before taking questions about the state’s new abortion law. But that is the setting at which West decided to perform them, after making a spur-of-the-moment decision, so that is what we have to judge. If you’re going to volunteer to do push-ups in front of a crowd, you probably want them to be really good push-ups.
So we can acknowledge that all of this is a bit odd, right?
I mean, there is definitely not a standard “push-ups” portion of every political press conference, no! That said, it’s not exactly rare for politicians—especially members of the GOP—to show off their physical prowess. Former vice presidential nominee and congressman Paul Ryan, before his tenure as Speaker of the U.S. House, posed for a series of photos for Time magazine that showed off his workout regimen (he enjoyed fitness brand P90X). Donald Trump Jr. famously shared a video of himself on Instagram showing him breaking a personal dead lift record , a post that prompted Men’s Health to offer advice for lifters who might make the mistake of rounding their backs the way the Trump family scion did. The Republican party’s freshman congressional star Marjorie Taylor Greene, a devoted CrossFit enthusiast, has been keen to share videos of her workouts with captions like “This is my COVID protection.” (In March, CrossFit released a statement in which it declared that it “strongly oppose[d] the loathsome and dangerous lies attributed to Ms. Greene.”) It’s not strictly a partisan thing, of course—San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenberg, a progressive independent, is an avid weightlifter who once did an interview while pumping iron, showing a San Antonio Express-News reporter how he regularly bench-presses 225 pounds. And who can forget Beto O’Rourke’s “running town hall” during his Senate campaign, in which the former candidate invited voters to ask him questions while in the middle of a two-mile jog?
West dropping to do his push-ups in a full suit and tie at the Capitol while in the middle of a press conference is an outlier, but the message—that he’s, like, a manly man who can do a push-up on cue (or at least something resembling a push-up)—is one that politicians often seek to convey. In their desire to demonstrate their physical fitness in order to suggest a certain political fitness, if nothing else, West and Beto have something in common.