One is a self-promoting narcissist who pals around with far-right extremists, picks feuds with public officials, and has a cultlike following. The other owns Twitter and much of Tesla. Meet Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and Elon “Elon Musk” Musk. Despite their superficial differences, they have more in common than you might imagine.
McIngvale is the Mississippi-born, Dallas-reared proprietor of Gallery Furniture, a three-store chain that includes a sprawling warehouse in north Houston boasting a miniature zoo and a 30,000-gallon aquarium. For nearly four decades, he’s been a ubiquitous presence on local television, thanks to manic commercials in which he hyperventilates about futons while promising to “Save! You! Money!” Sometimes he waves fistfuls of cash. Sometimes he dresses up as a mattress. One of his ads plays in the background during a scene from the 1994 film Reality Bites, which was filmed in the Bayou City.
SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002, arrived much more recently. In 2014, the company quietly began buying up land around Boca Chica, a tiny coastal hamlet a few miles north of the Rio Grande. From that remote site, it tests the reusable Starship rockets that Musk hopes will someday take astronauts to Mars—not particularly mindful of the testing’s negative effects on the neighboring retirees and wildlife refuge. Musk moved to Texas in 2020; soon after, he brought along the headquarters of two of his other ventures, Tesla and the Boring Company.
The South African billionaire has long touted SpaceX’s ambition to make humanity a “multi-planetary species,” and Mattress Mack likewise is fond of grandiose statements. In a recent full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle, McIngvale boasted that his “goodwill and unwavering support for our communities [has] won the hearts and minds of millions.” The ad was a response to criticism from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, with whom Mattress Mack has been feuding for more than a year. He was one of the top donors to Hidalgo’s Republican opponent in 2022 and does not appear to have taken Hidalgo’s jibes—in her victory speech, she dismissed him as a “furniture salesman”—in good humor. He has, in fact, won praise for actions such as using two Gallery Furniture locations as shelters after Hurricane Harvey, in 2017.
Musk has his own bête noire in Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren. After she criticized him for dodging taxes—ProPublica has reported that the billionaire paid no federal income tax in 2018—Musk tweeted a reply: “You remind me of when I was a kid and my friend’s angry Mom would just randomly yell at everyone for no reason.” The experiences of being publicly chastised by Democratic politicians appear to have helped drive both Musk and McIngvale into the arms of the far right. After purchasing Twitter last year, Musk publicly welcomed back noted antisemite Kanye West—only to kick him off the platform again following another of West’s anti-Jewish posts. (The Wall Street Journal recently reported that in 2022, West was involved in Musk’s plan to build a new city east of Austin.)
Unlike Musk, who has said he used to vote for Democrats before they became “the party of division & hate,” McIngvale is a longtime Republican. Like many members of the party, he’s moved further to the right in recent years, donating to extremist politicians such as Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, and Ronny Jackson. He was an early and ardent supporter of Donald Trump, and he appears to have embraced the former president’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud. In February, McIngvale sued Harris County seeking public records about the 2022 midterm elections and set up a website through which Harris County voters can report alleged election fraud, though no reports of fraud have been published.
So whom should Texans vote for as their favored brand—SpaceX or Mattress Mack? One wants to send humans to the stars, while the other wants to sell you a nice leather sectional. For what it’s worth, my money is on the Mack. (Where the gambling-loving McIngvale has his own money is another story.) He may be an egotistical blowhard with dubious politics, but he’s our egotistical blowhard. Not that I’m anti-SpaceX; as far as I’m concerned, the sooner Musk makes it to Mars, the better. The journey should take around seven months, though, so he’ll probably need a good mattress. I suggest a visit to Gallery Furniture.