October 8, 2021:
During the 2016 GOP presidential primary, Twitter users gleefully shared a meme suggesting that Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer. The joke didn’t really make sense. The long-unidentified serial killer, who murdered at least 5—and as many as 37—Northern Californians and taunted the police by sending them ciphers, operated in 1968 and 1969; Cruz knows a thing or two about fleeing a scene, but he wasn’t born until 1970. Nonetheless, the meme took off, driven in large part by the senator’s detractors who seemed to want to express that there was no limit to how creepy they found him.
In an unlikely twist, Cruz himself seemed to be delighted by the joke. In 2017, in response to Senator Ben Sasse (who was tweeting a joke about the theory, circulated by former president Donald Trump, that Cruz’s father helped assassinate John F. Kennedy), the junior senator tweeted the unreadable cipher that the Zodiac Killer had sent to police during his active years. The following Halloween, Cruz tweeted the puzzle again, unprompted. Last December, after a team of codebreakers shared that they had finally, after 51 years, cracked the cipher, Cruz retweeted the news with a brief, “uh oh”—probably the funniest joke the senator has ever made in public.
Then, on Monday, a group of amateur sleuths issued a release claiming to have definitively identified the Zodiac Killer as someone other than Ted Cruz. The man they identified was alive in 1968, which makes him a more likely culprit than Cruz—who, again, was not. But amateur sleuths are not the most reliable detectives, and on Thursday evening, the FBI announced that, in the eyes of the Justice Department, the case was still open. Cruz engaged once again, tweeting, “Noooooooo!!!!!!!!”
All of this is, of course, nonsense, but Cruz’s successful co-opting of a meme is one of the more successful pieces of political jiujitsu in recent memory.
September 29, 2021:
Ahead of the NBA season, Cruz, a noted basketball enthusiast, has a handful of new favorite players: Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving, Golden State forward Andrew Wiggins, Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal. The makings of a formidable starting five, to be sure, but the Texas senator appreciates them for their work off the court: the group are among a handful of NBA players who have refused to provide the league with confirmation that they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine. On Tuesday, Cruz tweeted his support for the Unvaxxed All-Stars.
Cruz’s relationship to the vaccine is complicated. He says he’s vaccinated. He added in May that the jab “has given us a lot of freedom.” And Ted Cruz loves freedom! However, he’s simultaneously argued against proposed government vaccine mandates, describing them as “authoritarianism.” Though some local restrictions will prevent unvaccinated players from entering arenas in certain cities, such as the Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden in New York and the Chase Center in San Francisco, the NBA has imposed no such mandate. The league’s rules only indicate that unvaccinated players, who are restricted from certain social activities such as dining with teammates, are likely to have less fun on the road than their vaccinated teammates.
What’s the source, then, of Cruz’s vocal support for players who are refusing a vaccine that no one is mandating they get, that he himself has received, and that he has heralded for bringing Americans more freedom? It’s all about owning the libs. Cruz, a staunch opponent of abortion, ended his tweet with the longtime pro-choice mantra “your body, your choice.” “Standing with” the players who’ve chosen not to get vaccinated—or who won’t confirm they have been—by repurposing a catchphrase used by his political opponents is unlikely to get the NBA to change its relatively light policies around unvaccinated players. But failure to score actual points has never stopped the senator from trying to dunk on his opponents.