At 7 p.m. Tuesday, the primary polls closed in Texas, and Sen. Ted Cruz’s challenger was soon confirmed as Rep. Beto O’Rourke — a congressman born and raised in El Paso who had outraised Cruz nearly 3-to-1 in recent weeks and lifted Democratic hopes of finally cracking the Republican monopoly on statewide politics in November.
Less than two hours later on the same evening, Cruz released a radio ad against his Democratic threat on Twitter.
It was a jingle. It went like this:
“I remember reading stories liberal Robert wanted to fit in,
“So he changed his name to Beto and hid it with a grin.
“Beto wants those open borders and he wants to take our guns.
“Not a chance on earth he’ll get a vote from million of Texans.
“If you’re going to run in Texas you can’t be a liberal man.”
Besides some issues with the meter, the song was criticized on two related fronts.
1. While O’Rourke’s first name is indeed legally Robert and he is white, he has used the traditionally Hispanic nickname Beto for decades. He also has not tried to hide his real one.
Texas Monthly reported the nickname was given to him as a baby growing up in a heavily Hispanic town near the Mexican border. O’Rourke even gave The Washington Post a childhood photo of himself in a “Beto” sweater last month to prove it. While Cruz suggested he had changed his name to manipulate Hispanic voters, O’Rourke identified himself as “Robert ‘Beto’ O’Rourke” to the El Paso Times in 2002 — 10 years before he won his U.S. Congress seat — for an article about a local 20K race.
2. “Ted” Cruz did exactly the same thing. Before moving to Texas as a child, he was born Rafael Edward Cruz — in another country, no less.
Cruz was not the first to inaccurately accuse O’Rourke of faking up a name. The Monitor in McAllen, Texas, posted a chain of warring letters to the editor late last year.
From Jake Longoria in Mission, Texas: “It never ceases to amaze me how easily the voters of the Rio Grande Valley are bamboozled by someone who adopts a nickname that somehow bestows some type of Hispanic connection on them.”
Felipe Garcia in Edinburg, Texas: “I will take a white ‘Beto’ over an ‘Uncle Tomas’ Cruz any day of the year.”
So, also Tuesday, after the primary vote and the radio jingle, CNN invited Cruz and O’Rourke on the air to sort out the name-calling.
“Why?” anchor Chris Cuomo asked Cruz. “Your name is Rafael. You go by Ted. Your middle name is Edward. Why go after it? You’re both doing the same thing.”
“You’re absolutely right,” Cruz said, and in the next sentence transitioned from a defense of his ad to a stump speech. “I’m the son of Rafael Cruz, an immigrant from Cuba who came Texas with nothing and had $100 in his underwear. … That’s the American story.”
Back to the ad. “It is just kind of a sense of humor,” Cruz told Cuomo. “You actually missed the central, the title of the song — which is if you’re going to run in Texas, you can’t run as a liberal man.”
If this did not seem to be the most substantive debate to be having at the beginning of a potentially historic Senate race, O’Rourke’s segment was not much more inspiring.
“Congressman,” anchor Alisyn Camerota asked him. “I know you have a punk rock past. Do you plan to compose a punk rock song to counter that jingle?”
Along with acquiring a nickname in his distant youth, O’Rourke also played in a punk rock band.
He refused to acknowledge Camerota’s question.
“We’re the defining immigrant state,” he said. “We should be leading the way on immigrant reform.”
“Congressman,” Camerota said again. “Why aren’t you taking my punk rock bait?”
“We can get into name calling and focus on why the other person is such an awful guy, or we can focus on the big things,” O’Rourke said.