Nothing Ted Cruz does is done without calculation. Do people really not understand the strategy here?
The media started grumbling about this last night when he rolled out his new ad, pointedly using Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s given name in his tweet about it.
FIRST LISTEN: our new 60-second statewide radio ad introducing our liberal opponent, Congressman Robert O’Rourke, to Texas voters.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 7, 2018
Lyrics: “I remember reading stories / Liberal Robert wanted to fit in. / So he changed his name to Beto. / And hid it with a grin.”
Seems strange that Rafael Cruz, a native of beautiful Calgary, Alberta, Canada, would go after another pol for tweaking his name and downplaying certain biographical details to better “fit in.” CNN was sufficiently intrigued by the hypocrisy that they cranked out a story for their website about it, replete with a baby photo of O’Rourke and a quote from the candidate himself claiming that his parents have called him “Beto” from day one. Meanwhile, Team Cruz is sufficiently invested in the issue to have Cruz’s former presidential campaign manager, Jeff Roe, pushing back on Twitter about it:
And he penned columns in college as Robert and rowed crew at Columbia using the same.
He tried to join the Hispanic caucus for crying out loud. https://t.co/7FDgdPB7ny
— Jeff Roe (@jeffroe) March 7, 2018
Oh yeah, there's also this… @BetoORourke
More to come. pic.twitter.com/sDiU4N6dIe
— Jeff Roe (@jeffroe) March 7, 2018
Chris Cuomo went after Cruz about it this morning, with Cruz dodging the question by insisting that the ad jingle was all in good fun.
Chris Cuomo asks Sen. Ted Cruz why he’s criticizing his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke for going by the childhood nickname ‘Beto’ when Cruz’s real name is actually Rafael: “You’re absolutely right. My name is Rafael Edward Cruz.” https://t.co/tkyhJy6DXk pic.twitter.com/l90lFsvNjf
— CNN (@CNN) March 7, 2018
Is Cruz’s interest in O’Rourke’s name really that mysterious? Partly it’s an attempt to downplay O’Rourke’s potential appeal to Latino voters. “Beto” is a Spanish-language nickname for “Robert,” of course, and massive Latino turnout is pretty much the only way the fabled blue wave could conceivably swamp Texas. The Cruz jingle is designed to paint O’Rourke as a phony, less authentically Latino than Cruz himself is. (Note how Cruz seizes Cuomo’s question to run through the story of his father’s emigration from Cuba.) But you don’t need to get cute about ethnic politics to see the benefit of rebranding O’Rourke as “Robert” instead of “Beto.” Just click over and look at the online store for O’Rourke’s campaign website. Literally every item on the page is branded “Beto” and just “Beto,” with not a single mention of his surname. Now click over and look at the homepage of the website. Not once does the word “O’Rourke” appear anywhere; even the legal fine print at the bottom of the page, naming the organization that supports the website, lists it as “Beto for Texas.” Is there another candidate website in America that doesn’t feature the candidate’s last name on the front page of the site?
No doubt that’s a strategic choice by O’Rourke as well, to try to attract Latino voters by de-Anglicizing (de-Celticizing?) his identity. Whatever the motivation, though, he’s chosen “Beto” alone as his brand — and that’s important, because one of O’Rourke’s big challenges in the race is the same challenge facing almost every candidate running against an incumbent. Namely, name recognition. Everyone in Texas knows who Cruz is, relatively few know who O’Rourke is. In a poll of the state conducted a few weeks ago, O’Rourke scored a favorable rating of 29/14 with 58 percent of registered voters saying they didn’t know enough about him yet to form an opinion. That’s why he’s been barnstorming the state to visit every county: The first step in an upset is getting your name out there. And that’s also why Cruz is doing what he’s doing. He’s trying to confuse undecided voters about who his opponent is before they get to know him. I assume every formal Cruz campaign communique for the rest of the race will refer to him as “Robert O’Rourke” or “Rep. O’Rourke,” leaving low-information voters to wonder who the hell this “Beto” person is whose signs they keep seeing around town. To paraphrase Fred Thompson, Ted Cruz doesn’t take a dump, son, without a plan. That’s what the nickname plan is all about.