Every Thursday, we publish Bull Session, a roundup of the political odds and ends of the week, penning them all into one overstuffed corral.
As you may have heard over the churn of your own boiling blood, election season is in full, pit-and-the-pendulum swing. That long trudge to November has brought with it the first drift of campaign mailers to your doorstep, piling up like so much seasonal brush to be cleared. And at least a couple of Texas lawmakers have come up with clever strategies to waylay that journey to the trash bin, however briefly, by sending out eye-catching doodads, hoping to create a cloud of confusion that will carry them right through the polls.
For incumbents like Texas congressman Dan Crenshaw, the key to reelection is a proven history of legislation that speaks directly to the concerns of their district. Just kidding. It’s effective branding, something Crenshaw has pursued with uncommon enthusiasm across his scores of TV appearances, Twitter feuds, and tote bags. Unfortunately, those tote bags will run you $25, and Crenshaw can’t just send out some of his guns or little vials of natural gas. So he’s working with all the other things he’s known for and mailing supporters their very own souvenir Dan Crenshaw eyepatches.
I’ve received strange fundraising mailings and promotional items from candidates or political organizations, but nothing quite like this … pic.twitter.com/Mk14BLPFF5— Jennifer WH (@jwharris) February 10, 2020
Emblazoned with the slogans “Never Forget” and “In It Together,” the eyepatches are a reminder of Crenshaw’s own military service, underscoring the congressman’s message about being “in it” with America’s veterans—and, specifically, with Dan Crenshaw. And uncomfortable as it may be to see Crenshaw’s sacrifice reduced to a literal prop, you can’t deny it’s a catchy form of self-marketing, like all the other stuff with Crenshaw’s face on it. The aspiring new voice of American conservatism understands that modern politics is about reducing everything, even yourself, into a recognizable meme. And if that doesn’t do it, the mailer mentions Crenshaw’s Saturday Night Live appearance right there on the envelope.
It’s a (Politically Advantageous) Boy for Briscoe Cain!
While Texas state representative Briscoe Cain’s brand is largely defined by his own tough-guy cosplay and Second Amendment-related trolling, he can’t just send people screenshots of his tweeting threats to Beto O’Rourke. That’s really more of an October strategy. So in the meantime, he’s ensuring that voters somehow remember the name “Briscoe Cain” by reminding them of his long, proven record of breeding.
Cain’s own campaign mailer doubles as a “gender reveal” that, unfortunately, his fellow representative Matt Krause has already spoiled by letting everyone know that Briscoe and wife Bergundi are expecting their fifth son, of a “B” name to be revealed. With their pregnancy receiving a hearty, not-at-all creepy thumbs up from President Trump himself, voters can now be assured that Cain will continue to work hard on being this carefully crafted image of conservative masculinity they elected. And as a bonus, the little scratch-off thing means his mailer can’t even be recycled, thus owning the libs.
Alec Baldwin Lends His Brand to Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez
Not everyone has a famous injury or desperate need to prove their manhood as a trademark, so they have to find other ways to boost name recognition. As seen with Democratic senatorial candidate Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, sometimes you can just borrow a bit of someone else’s: Tzintzún Ramirez is challenging Senator John Cornyn with the endorsement of actor Alec Baldwin, who’s been offering her his financial support and informal advice since around 2013, when Baldwin first became enamored of Tzintzún Ramirez’s leadership of the Workers Defense Project. Baldwin has reportedly maintained near weekly contact with Tzintzún Ramirez ever since, invited her on his podcast, and introduced her to his million-strong Twitter following with a gushing video selfie.
Being sternly lectured by one of America’s finest actors, his face looming over you like you’re a photographer he just punched out, certainly sends a powerful message. But as Baldwin himself acknowledges in an interview with the Texas Tribune, he realizes that more moderate Texas voters could be turned off by all the “Trump crap” he does on SNL—or just the crap he does anywhere. After all, Cornyn and the GOP have a history of deriding challengers over their celebrity endorsements, as when Cornyn went after MJ “Hollywood” Hegar, then spent the day being roundly mocked by Patton Oswalt. And Tzintzún Ramirez herself already narrowly survived one celebrity-related scandal, when she was forced to walk back an endorsement from actress-turned-liberal-villain Susan Sarandon.
Still, for now, Tzintzún Ramirez seems to be welcoming Baldwin’s help in creating some Beto O’Rourke-like momentum for herself, beginning with borrowing some shine from another handsome, potty-mouthed Irish guy. Come November, perhaps it’ll all come down to which candidate voters prefer: the one backed by the self-important TV star with the nasty temper, or the one endorsed by the man who impersonates him.
Ted Cruz Warns that Democrats Are Coming for His Podcast
It’s a shame that Ted Cruz isn’t up for reelection until 2024, because his own brand is on fire right now. If the impeachment of Donald Trump is analogous to the trial of O.J. Simpson—as everyone from Jimmy Kimmel to Anthony Scaramucci to Trump’s own supporters has suggested—then Ted Cruz is basically Kato Kaelin: a hanger-on turned hostile witness who doesn’t really have any new or useful information, who mostly just muddies the waters, yet is constantly on TV. And thanks to his role as Trump’s pro bono public defender, which he recently celebrated with this greatest hits montage, Cruz has already leveraged impeachment into a similar level of personal stardom, vaulting himself right to the top of the podcasting charts. He is well on his way to a career of reality shows and cameos on Family Guy.
But alas, the downside of all impeachment trials is that they have to end, abruptly and without witnesses, which leaves the Verdict With Ted Cruz podcast without a compelling reason for listeners to keep tuning in, besides the opportunity to have Ted Cruz’s voice spoon-fed directly into your ears. In the thick of the trial, Verdict once toppled heavyweights like The Joe Rogan Experience to claim the number one spot. Now it’s languishing in the forties, well behind the likes of Dax Shepard’s talk show and Barstool Sports’ Call Her Daddy. Without any obvious foil to rail against, Cruz’s podcast lacks an essential purpose; just ask any grown man who’s currently yelling into a MacBook about Star Wars. So this week, Cruz wisely amped up the drama by dredging up an old, familiar villain: “Big Tech” and its implicit bias against conservatives, with Cruz ominously suggesting that a Bernie Sanders presidency could very well mean the end of his show.
“As bad as [Big Tech is] now, in a Democratic, in a Bernie Sanders administration, they would—I am not exaggerating when I say this podcast could very well be off the air,” said Cruz said, who was neither exaggerating nor accurately representing how podcasts work.
Cruz seems to believe that Sanders’ pledge to break up monopolies like Facebook and Amazon under antitrust laws would somehow lead to his putting podcasts directly under government control—a bit of specious reasoning that cohost Michael Knowles just sort of skipped right over on the way to agreeing with Cruz that social media companies “go after conservatives.” This is a complaint Cruz has been lodging for years now—even threatening to break up those companies himself so that no one can make fun of his tweets ever again. Still, Cruz didn’t really explain what any of that has to do with podcasting, specifically—an independent media platform that is absolutely rife with popular conservative shows, and far less threatened than, say, every other media platform under Donald Trump. Mostly it’s based on Cruz’s gut feeling that Democrats just don’t like his show. And to be fair, judging by responses calling his warning the most effective Bernie Sanders ad yet, on this Cruz may be right.
Sen Ted Cruz warns that if Bernie Sanders is elected president, his new podcast could be forced off the air pic.twitter.com/OpHEW47H8s— Jason Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) February 11, 2020
But Cruz losing his podcast to the institution of totalitarian media control, rather than people just kinda getting sick of it, seems unlikely. So, as his dwindling ratings reveal, it’s key for Cruz’s brand that he maintain this narrative of liberals as a vindictive Other. Implying that Democrats are out to silence Ted Cruz’s armchair ramblings makes the mere act of downloading Verdict seem like a patriotic conservative duty—which is certainly one way to hold onto your audience. It’s either that or Cruz’s comedy; I mean, where else can you hear Ted Cruz’s hilarious one-or-two jokes about the Iowa caucuses except here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or here?
Let Us Continue to Rock With Pete Olson
The last we checked in on Texas congressman Pete Olson, he was busy workshopping his own “tight five” on the House floor by comparing Georgian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili to Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch—a joke that absolutely killed, judging by the deathly silence. Olson was back at it this week with a new bit gently roasting Pearland music store The Music Factory and its owner, Chase Townsend, who just happens to share a similar surname with The Who guitarist Pete Townshend. And if you thought he wouldn’t “go there,” well, you don’t know Representative Pete Olson!
“Madam Speaker, I love to listen to music,” Olson said. “Modern country, like Kenny Chesney. Classic country, like Johnny Cash. Nineties grunge, like Pearl Jam. And eighties rock, like The Who, with Pete Townshend doing windmills. But there’s another Townsend who does more than Pete to keep music alive…. Rock on, Chase. [dramatic arm swoosh] Rock on.”
Ya burnt, eighties rock star Pete Townshend! Looks like there’s another Pete who’s got his own classic “riffs.” In fact, judging by recent weeks, Olson might just be retiring to spend more time on his analogies, maybe eventually honing them into his own brand of halting stand-up comedy that he can take on the road, like the many bands that, let the congressional record reflect, he loves to listen to. Rock on, Pete.