Cruz kicks off campaign at the Redneck Country Club, but is Ted really a redneck?

Good day Austin:

Here was Ted Cruz last night, after being introduced by radio talk host Michael Berry, a former member of the Houston City Council, a Cruz friend and ally, and the proprietor of the Redneck Country Club in Stafford.

If you’ve got ten hours to spare, you can watch it here:


It was the single most important speech and act on the single most important issue of the last ten years.

William F. Buckley, the father of conservatism, said, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history yelling, ‘Stop,’ when no one else is inclined to do so and no one else has patience for those who do. That’s what Ted Cruz did. He stood athwart history and said, `Stop.”

It’s good to see athwart get its due.

It’s not part of the usual redneck lexicon, except maybe as a lisping redneck’s identification of a skin growth on his posterior. (It’s OK for me to make this lame joke here because a teenaged Cruz began this video: “Aspirations? Is that like sweat on my butt?”)

But, when I think athwart it does bring to mind Slim Pickens as Major T.J. “King” Kong at the end of Dr. Strangelove, riding the nuclear missile,with Texas whoops and hollers, to its cataclysmic destination.

I wasn’t there in person last night. I watched it on Facebook.

But fortunately, I was there for the  election night celebration Cruz had there on Super Tuesday, 2016.


In March of 2016 we had an election-night party right here. And I still remember national reporters who were terrified and flabbergasted. “What do you mean we’re going to the Redneck Country Club?” There’s just something beautiful about saying that to a reporter who’s just completely out of sorts and saying, “Welcome to Texas.”

Here’s the photo Texas Monthly ran with its story by Abby Johnston back then under the headline: Ted Cruz Ain’t Skeered. Where is Ted Cruz’s voter base? You can find them at the Redneck Country Club.

Let it be known, then, that the people who packed the Redneck Country Club on Super Tuesday ain’t skeered. Neither is Ted Cruz.

Cruz’s decision to hold his victory rally at a venue with such demonstrative name has caused national pearl clutching. Cable news anchors said it apologetically on air (“That’s the name of it, don’t get mad at me,” CNN’s Jake Tapper begged) or giggled every time they repeated it. But the Internet’s clickbait du jour wasn’t redneck in name alone. Just outside of the main room is an entrancing tiered chandelier made out of 350 Lone Star bottles. The walls of the gorgeous high-ceilinged main room, where Cruz addressed his crowd of supporters, looked like it was decorated by the world’s most tasteful taxidermist, with fowl, boars, and deer all represented. The Redneck Country Club very accurately describes itself as a “high-class redneck establishment,” and the honky-tonk’s décor, though lovely and shockingly thorough, shows that they’re embracing the ‘neck ethos without abandon.

In other words, Cruz wasn’t trying to pull one over on us when his camp booked the club as a venue. And in fact, it seems to be a very deliberate choice, because for Cruz it’s long been about location, location, location. Let’s rewind to when entered into the GOP circus in March 2015 at Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world. He launched his presidential bid in front of thousands of young Christians (allegedly there under threat of a fine from the university), which was a smart move for someone who was positioned to be the God-and-country evangelical in the 2016 race. The decision to announce at an institution founded by Jerry Falwell Sr., a Southern Baptist preacher and co-founder of the Moral Majority, said a lot about the kind of people Cruz expected would deliver the GOP nomination to him. His speech reflected it. He detailed how faith in God saved his father, and how his own journey has been heavily influenced by his religion.

Now, snap back to Super Tuesday and his home state victory rally that was decidedly more raucous than a Baptist potluck. There was beer by the bucketful (literally). There were more than a few sparkly cowboy hats. There was live music before the speech that picked back up after the candidate left, with a few couples two-stepping along. Undoubtedly there were Christians in attendance who might skip church on Sunday morning if Saturday night got a little out of hand. This club, owned by conservative radio host Michael Berry, celebrates a different type of conservative voter: The kind that expects their president to protect the constitutional rights of guns, low taxes, and booze. The only shout-out the Big Man got was the cursory “God bless” bookending the speech.

This reflects a shift in what Ted Cruz considers his voting base. Evangelical Christians have inexplicably fallen in line for Donald Trump, a man who once talked about anal sex on the radio and loves Planned Parenthood. Trump has claimed evangelical voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and continued to woo them on Super Tuesday. Adding insult to injury, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of the university where Cruz’s campaign was born, endorsed the mogul. For the faithful, it’s clear that Cruz is no longer the, er, chosen one.

The czar, referred to in the sign, is the czar of talk, as in Michael Berry.

Were national reporters actually terrified and flabbergasted by Cruz’s choice for his Super Tuesday venue?

Here is the headline deck on the Daily Mail’s story on Super Tuesday election night.

Ted Cruz holds Texas victory party at controversial club that hosted a blackface ‘comedian’ and is owned by radio host who called black teenagers ‘jungle animals’
Ted Cruz held his results party in Texas at The Redneck Country Club 
Venue owned by Michael Berry, who called black teenagers ‘jungle animals’
Bar hosts blackface ‘comedian’ Shirley Q. Liquor, who mocks black women
Cruz used the club as his campaign headquarters for Super Tuesday
Texas senator won the Republican primary there with 43.4% of the vote 

But this begs the real question:

Is Ted Cruz a redneck?

And what is a redneck?

There is the menacing redneck that does for Easy Rider what slim Pickens did for Dr. Strangelove.

Or the indescribably menacing rednecks of Deliverance.

There’s the more genially rollicking redneck brought to you here by New York-born Jerry Jeff Walker.

There is the lovable redneck, a la Ernest.

There is the Florida Panhandle’s Redneck Riviera, where I took my kids for spring break when they were young.

There’s the Redneck State of Mind.

There’s the definitional redneck, courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary.


And there’s the working, you may be a redneck definition from leading authority, Jeff Foxworthy

Foxworthy: “My definition of redneck – it’s a glorious absence of sophistication.”

So, by none of these standards is Canadian-born Rafael Edward Cruz, educated at Princeton and Harvard, former solicitor general of the state of Texas, and successful member of the Supreme Court bar, an actual, bona fide redneck.


But this is America, land of fluid identities, where you can be whatever you want to be.

If Robert Francis O’Rourke can be a bilingual, bicultural, and liberal Beto O’Rourke …

why can’t Ted Cruz be a virtual redneck.

Because, if Beto perfectly encapsulates O’Rourke’s politics, Redneck Ted is the essence of Cruz’s standing-athwart-history-yelling, “Stop,” political brand.

From Kevin Diaz in the Houston Chronicle on March 30: Cruz relying on brand to fend off lesser-known O’Rourke

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It was vintage Ted Cruz.

With bipartisan majorities in Congress poised to avert a government shutdown and pass a massive $1.3 trillion spending bill, the Texas Republican issued a dissent worthy of his insurgent 2016 presidential campaign, when he ran against the “Washington cabal.”

Now, the same bill President Donald Trump reluctantly would sign was, to Cruz, a “disastrous” hodge-podge of wasteful spending “drafted by the Swamp in the dark of night.”

 While some Republicans may fret about Trump’s shaky approval ratings or their party’s brand among disappointed conservatives, Cruz seems to occupy his own space in the political firmament. Launching his 2018 reelection campaign in Houston on Monday, he can fall back on his own tried-and-true persona: an unreconstructed conservative born of the party’s grass-roots base.

It is an identity that also could serve in some degree as a bulwark against the anti-Trump wave that has propelled his Democratic challenger, El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who launched his long-shot campaign a year ago Saturday.

Whatever the president’s fortunes in a tumultuous and often chaotic White House, Cruz, once Trump’s fiercest GOP critic, appears ready to stand on his own.

“He’s certainly not a Trump Republican,” University of Texas government scholar Sean Theriault said. “He’s a Cruz Republican, and I mean Cruz in all caps. He definitely marches to the beat of his own drummer.”

At his core, Cruz is us against them.

But the rallying cry of his campaign launch was, Tough as Texas, with an ad that stresses Texas grit and the common ground shared by Texans in the face of adversity, per Harvey.

There’s a lot more that unites us then divide us.

It is reminiscent of the ad that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew White issued earlier this year.

Andrew White

But in Cruz’s ad there are the little redneck flourishes.

And references to a “red neck rescue.”




Willeford’s story is perfect because it is at once an act of Texas pluck, can-do courage and barefoot heroism, but also a rebuke to those, like O’Rourke, who don’t approve of AR-15s.

Because, what has always animated Cruz’s brand of politics is what divides us.

In a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, Jeff Roe, the hard-edged strategist who ran Cruz’s presidential campaign wrote:

HOUSTON — I’m here to tell my fellow Republicans, in particular Republican members of Congress and the Republican consulting class: You can run, but you can’t hide.

President Trump may not be on the ballot in November, but the election will be a referendum on him, as 2010 was on President Barack Obama and 2006 was on President George W. Bush. We will lose seats. The only question is this: Will these losses be catastrophic or manageable?

That will be determined by a very specific choice: Will the party retreat from its leader or fix bayonets and storm to the front with him?

No one fought Mr. Trump harder and longer than I did, as the campaign manager for Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign for the Republican nomination. I know the maddening brilliance of Mr. Trump. I also know history doesn’t favor the president’s party in midterm elections. With the election of a Democrat in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania — a district Mr. Trump carried by 20 percentage points, but which also has tens of thousands more registered Democrats than Republicans — it has become media gospel that the president is toxic and that Republican candidates will have to distance themselves from him. That narrative is wrong.

For starters, I am not persuaded that the national Democrats will allow many more personally anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-Pelosi Democrats in battleground seats to win nomination. Among Democratic candidates, Conor Lamb, the victor in Pennsylvania, is the exception, not the rule.

While some Republican candidates, in swing seats, may benefit from creating distance from Mr. Trump, a strategic retreat will work only in rare instances. The myth that midterms are decided by swing voters ignores the prevailing reality that large midterm electoral shifts are driven by shifts in base motivation.

If you are a Republican on the ballot, you are in the same boat as Mr. Trump, whether you like it or not. If enough people jump ship, generic party identification will suffer, and everyone will sink. In other words, if enough Republicans run from their leader, the Republican brand will be so diminished as to produce historic defeats up and down the ballot.

It is undoubtedly difficult to differentiate Trump policies from the Trump persona, because the Trump persona dominates news coverage. But Republican candidates for Congress have to try. Tactically, that means being laser-focused on generating local news coverage of policy accomplishments, even when the national cable news fixates on the latest Trump outrage.

And guess what? Despite breathless coverage of the daily outrage generator in the White House, the economy is improving. The tax cuts will, and in fact already are, spurring growth, freeing capital for investment, creating jobs and returning overseas profits to our shores. There is a message to sell. So sell it.

I would go further and argue that it is the Trump persona so vilified in the media that has in fact made bolder, more sweeping reforms possible than would have been conceivable under almost any other Republican who might have been elected.

Would a President Jeb Bush have signed a strong executive order on religious liberty, or would a President Marco Rubio have started construction of a wall? Would President John Kasich have had the intestinal fortitude to execute such a huge reorganization of the Environmental Protection Agency, dismantling the liberal bureaucracy that with its deeply embedded biases harms our economy? Would President Mitt Romney have pushed through such a major tax overhaul? No way. What makes Mr. Trump different is that he just doesn’t care what the bed-wetting caucus says about his policies.

Roe does not make an unfavorable comparison between Cruz and Trump because, in his view, Cruz is, at least as much as Trump, anathema to the bed-wetters.

Author: Jonathan Tilove

Jonathan Tilove is the Statesman's chief political writer. He was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 2008 to 2012. Before that he covered race and immigration issues for Newhouse News Service for 18 years.

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