Every Thursday we’ll be publishing Bull Session, a roundup of the political odds and ends of the week, penning them all into one overstuffed corral.
Ted Cruz loves to make people laugh. The senator has spent much of his political career brandishing his sophisticated sense of humor like a bacon-wrapped AR-15, often loving jokes so much that he’ll cling to the same ones for years. Whether it’s dropping some well-rehearsed zingers or just sharing some pop-culture-referencing dad memes on Twitter, the man simply lives to entertain. So you can imagine Cruz’s delight over his appearance this week on Meet the Press, where the senator deadpanned that he believes there is “considerable evidence” that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. And folks, it killed.
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) December 8, 2019
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Like nearly all of Cruz’s material, the gag was a callback to something someone else came up with—in this case, Russian security services, who created what former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill has described as a dangerous “fictional narrative” of Ukraine meddling, as a diversion from their own well-documented interference. Hill’s certainly not alone there. The conspiracy has been repeatedly, exhaustively debunked, to the point where even Senator Lindsey Graham was forced to breach his Faustian bargain this week and publicly contradict President Trump, declaring he’s “1,000 percent confident” that it was the Russians, not Ukrainians, who committed the only proven meddling. Instead, Graham has wisely shifted his focus to other gambols for his master, like investigating his old friend Joe Biden. (“As good a man as God ever created”—Lindsey Graham, once upon a time.)
But Cruz knows that the first rule of comedy is conviction: you have to believe in what you’re saying, no matter how outlandish. So Cruz doubled down, telling an incredulous Chuck Todd, “Look, on the evidence, Russia clearly interfered in our election. But here’s the game the media is playing: because Russia interfered, the media pretends nobody else did. Ukraine blatantly interfered in our election. The sitting ambassador from Ukraine wrote an op-ed blasting Donald Trump.”
Of course, as Todd pointed out, an op-ed doesn’t exactly equal the Russian government-directed hacking of DNC servers, the dissemination of fake news articles, or the creation of troll farms to swarm American social media. Not to mention, the op-ed was a response to Trump’s comments on letting Russia just keep Crimea after its forcible annexation—the very same act for which Cruz himself once “blasted” President Obama, over his supposed lack of courage in standing up to Vladimir Putin.
And as Todd reminded Cruz, it’s not as though Trump is above peddling false narratives to help him politically, referring to the many months Trump spent publicly spinning conspiracies about Cruz himself on everything from his citizenship to his dad’s involvement in the JFK assassination. But then, all this self-debasing meta-humor is what makes Cruz’s bit work, and it paid off handsomely—cracking up not only the historically tough room that is Todd’s small in-studio audiences, but even the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, who said of his act, “It has come to this: Ted Cruz is Putin’s stooge.” Nyuk nyuk nyuk.
All the World Is Louie Gohmert’s Stage
Never one to be upstaged, Representative Louie Gohmert has been making the most of his own moments in the spotlight this week, giving the impeachment hearings a command performance filled with typically Shakespearean sound and fury. The Tyler congressman made his audacious entrance on Monday by announcing that he would use all of his allotted five minutes—“but not to ask questions.” It proved to be an ominous prelude to a lengthy monologue about treason—something no one associated with the inquiry is actually accused of—before Gohmert implicitly threatened that Republicans would impeach Joe Biden, using the same “forms” in front of him, if and when he ever actually takes office. “I’m scared for my country,” Gohmert concluded, his voice trembling with a melodramatic anguish not heard since the last time someone turned on his mic.
Cramming a season’s worth of soap opera into just a few scant hours, this week Gohmert has also accused an attorney for the Democrats of bribing his way onto the dais, dramatically stormed out of the room after the other Democratic attorney called Trump a “clear and present danger to our national security,” and, as his grand finale (for now), even publicly named the person alleged to be the “whistleblower” that kicked off this whole circus. That third-act reveal was the kind of showstopping flourish lesser performers might have derided as “hammy” or “a serious ethical violation.” But in Gohmert’s defense, it did get him a whole lot of attention.
Castro in Iowa: A No-Love-Lost Story
While Gohmert’s implication that any Democratic president could likely look forward to impeachment, now that the bar has been lowered, at least Julian Castro probably doesn’t have anything to worry about. Unfortunately, the presidential candidate isn’t likely to get anywhere near the White House to begin with, a sad reality that he has lately turned into a condemnation of the American primary process, arguing that allowing states like Iowa and New Hampshire to vote first is an outdated practice, and one that no longer reflects the diversity of the nation.
This week, Castro took the ballsy step of presenting his case directly to Iowans, appearing at a town hall in Des Moines in which he praised the state for being politically engaged, but again criticized the idea that its 90-percent-white population should still get to decide who advances to the election. It’s a criticism that has earned him some muted support, even among Iowans, although he openly acknowledged that he ran a serious risk by just making it.
“If it’s a catastrophe to bring this up, if I ever wanted to run again in the future, the same thing applies,” Castro said, according to the Des Moines Register. “So I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to bring this up, and I do, because it needs to be said.” But hey, given that he’s currently polling at about 1 percent in the state, it’s not like he has much to lose. So give ’em hell, Castro! Now talk about how corn dogs are disgusting!
Do All Your Christmas Shopping With Dan Crenshaw
Displaying a similar, if slightly less self-destructive, bravado, Representative Dan Crenshaw officially announced his own bid for reelection this week, warning supporters that “the Democrat Party, at the highest level, will try to undermine my reputation.” Crenshaw then immediately announced the launch of his new online store, which he noted was full of “awesome American swag.”
Believe America is the greatest country in history?
So we stocked our store with some awesome America swag.
— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) December 11, 2019
Indeed, the merch inside the official Crenshaw For Congress storefront contains not one, but three different varieties of bald eagle, as well as that most American of symbols: Dan Crenshaw’s face. You can also find the “Face of Crenshaw” in several shades of Crenshaw—minimalist black-and-white; wearing an eyepatch in the colors of the Texas flag; rendered in hazes of neon pink and green, for all you Soundcloud-rappin’ millennials—both grimacing determinedly and grinning coquettishly. You can even get his head on the “Official Crenshaw Pop-Socket,” where Dan Crenshaw will DEBUNK the myth that your phone is safe without a proper adhesive grip. Why, it’s likely to slip out of your hands and go scattering to the floor, only to be snatched up by some socialist! Anyway, none of these things is exactly cheap—even the pop-socket will set you back $15—but as Crenshaw reminds us (by way of Team America), “Never Forget Freedom Isn’t Free,” a stirring sentiment you can purchase on both a coffee mug and tote bag.
The Bush Dynasty: Part Whatever
Finally, if this grueling death march to 2020 has you hankering for some fresh political blood, have we ever got an up-and-comer for you! Pierce Bush—son of Neil, grandson of George H.W., 10,000th of his name—crawled out of the sterling silver incubator to announce his bid for Texas’s 22nd congressional district this week, where he will seek to fill the Republican-sized hole in the Houston suburbs left behind by retiring Representative Pete Olson. This newly uncovered Bush is currently CEO of the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star, where just last year he was named Most Admired Nonprofit CEO by Houston Business Journal for his volunteer work with children. He now hopes to take those good and charitable deeds and have them wielded against him by critics who will no doubt ask how he can square that love for kids with his support of a president who likes to put them in cages.
Today, I’m proud to announce my candidacy for Texas's 22nd district. I look forward to working with you, earning your support, your faith and your vote. Visit https://t.co/yRG4DMctCm for more information. pic.twitter.com/fzRJ2xp54w
— Pierce Bush (@PierceBush) December 9, 2019
Ditto his family’s own contentious history with Trump, whom his grandfather memorably called a “blowhard”—and ultimately spurned for Hillary Clinton—and who spent much of the 2016 election slowly hollowing out his uncle Jeb. Asked about all this by the Associated Press, the latest Bush asked rhetorically, “When you look at the alternative, first of all, how can you be anything but a supporter of the president’s policies?” He then added, “I look forward to being a partner in Washington, and speaking of course with my own voice, but supporting the president’s agenda.”
Bush faces a potentially uphill battle beyond his uneasy relationship with the president, grappling with a field that’s already crowded with Democratic and Republican challengers. Not to mention the fact that Bush doesn’t even live in the district he’s vying to represent, and originally considered running in nearby Congressional District 7, which his grandfather once represented.
Bush has already faced criticism from rival candidate Greg Hill on this last point, with Hill expressing his “strong doubts about any candidate who would try to parachute into our district and buy this seat.” It’s a potentially slanderous accusation, seeing as Bush clearly isn’t trying to buy the seat, but inherit it. Anyway, best of luck to Bush Version 4.0 on its new launch. Hopefully it’s upgraded its joke algorithm since 2006. As Ted Cruz can tell you, everyone really just wants a good laugh.