For the past several years, Ted Cruz has been on a mission to change his reputation from “miserable son of a bitch” to “human person, just like you.” He’s taken a multi-pronged approach. He started a weekly basketball game on Capitol Hill. He did pop culture impressions to show that he loves The Princess Bride just like you do. He leaned into the internet meme accusing him of being the Zodiac Killer, even though the serial killer’s reign of terror began before Cruz was born (or hatched, or landed from outer space). But it turns out all he needed to do to finally have his humanity embraced by the country at large was to stop shaving.
When Cruz returned to the Senate after narrowly winning his re-election campaign over Beto O’Rourke, he was photographed in a new light: specifically, a light that showed off the chin whiskers he grew over Thanksgiving. The initial reaction to the stubble on his face was, as with so many things involving the junior senator from Texas, mockery and derision. But as it continued to grow, a funny thing happened. People began to embrace Cruz’s new look—and not just along party lines. Slate, a haven of progressive political commentary, published a take last week that declared, “I’m So Sorry to Report that Ted Cruz’s New Beard Looks Great.” Esquire, a magazine that puts an asterisk next to the word “President” when referring to Donald Trump, wrote that Cruz now “kind of looks like a dude I’d love to share an ice cold Miller Genuine Draft with.”
Back in October, Cruz insisted that he was not interested in the affection of men’s lifestyle magazines. “The party that reads GQ—your target demographic—are successful, urban professionals with a fair amount of disposable income,” he said in a profile in that magazine, insisting that he was less interested in “GQ America” and more interested in “Field & Stream America.” With his new beard, Cruz is being embraced by both.
Cruz has worked hard for a long time to get people to stop treating him like an inhuman, alien-lizard hybrid. It turns out that the power was literally growing from within him all along, and he was foolishly scraping it off of his face. Authenticity is an age-old tactic for making leaders resonate with their constituents, and letting Ted Cruz be Ted Cruz, it seems, means letting the facial hair go wild.
When Cruz merely showed a little stubble, he was mocked for it. But as the facial hair has filled out, forcing even Cruz’s detractors to begrudgingly acknowledge its “unwelcome semi-hotness,” the full beard gives him the air of a man who’s seen things. After he narrowly escaped November with his seat in the Senate, his ambition for the presidency seems more distant than ever—but that close contest with O’Rourke came before the beard. Would Cruz have won by more than three points if he’d started No-Shave November a few weeks early? It’s impossible to say. Back then, it might have just been creepy. Now, Cruz’s beard works because it suggests that he’s endured a period of self-reflection.
It is a Beard of Sorrow, one we can assume he decided to grow when he was down in the early returns on election night, as he faced the prospect that his Senate career might be at its end. Cruz can only wear the beard now because he earned it, the way that Rocky earns the beard he grows in Rocky IV after Apollo dies.
The full beard he’s grown gives him the air of a man who’s seen things, and it’s only logical that the longer the beard grows, the more a man has seen. Beards of Sorrow are not the only beards that suggest a new perspective—consider Gandalf’s aura of wisdom and what that might mean for Cruz’s future prospects.
It’s unlikely (though not impossible) that Ted Cruz seeks the presidency once more, but if he does, he’ll need the magic of the beard. If he runs, the beard could reach Duck Dynasty levels by the 2020 election; if he waits until 2024, it could be truly epic. Billy Gibbons would be jealous. Cruz’s campaign could be a bewhiskered juggernaut. He could face an uncontested primary, as opponents take one look at him and decide to wait until 2028 so they can grow out their own epic facial hair.
Cruz’s beard has swayed even people who have spent his entire political career mocking him. Nothing about him has actually changed, but also, it seems, everything has. If politics in the age of Trump has taught us anything, it’s that Americans are no longer troubled by excess—there is no end to the appetite for Trump’s rhetoric among his supporters, there is no end to the appetite for livestreams of Beto O’Rourke doing stuff around his house, and there will be no end to the appetite for Ted Cruz’s beard. If he grows it down to mid-chest, all of his dreams might finally come true.