In claiming Beto would ban BBQ, Ted Cruz battles a straw man made of tofu

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Good Monday Austin:

I went to see Ted Cruz at town hall meetings this weekend. Good crowds and Cruz was in fine form.

The first event was at Baker Boys BBQ in Gonzales. The second was at Schobel’s Restaurant in Columbus.

When I arrived at the Columbus event there were four folks from PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — out in front holding signs. I suppose you could call them protesters or demonstrators, but their demeanor was extraordinarily pleasant and their signs weren’t anti-anything. They were simply pro-tofu.

I knew what was up.

Cruz had recently suggested that out-of-state liberals were pouring money into Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign because they want to impose California values — including tofu consumption — on Texas.

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I approached and introduced myself. Dani Alexander, a 31-year-old PETA volunteer from Houston, who was the spokeswoman for the group, said she had a prepared statement, which she read to me.


We are here passing out free barbecue tofu samples after Sen. Cruz’s snipe about soy earlier this week. He said some things about tofu being liberal, but tofu’s actually bipartisan. PETA is confident that once Sen. Cruz gets a taste of how delicious tofu can be he will want to see tofu in every Texas pot.

Tofu’s the most versatile food on the planet and it’s grown right here in the Lone Star State. According to the USDA, soy production in the Lone Star State was valued at $61 million last year and as more and more people realize that eating meat is completely unnecessary and with the ever-growing list of vegan-friendly restaurants and businesses, it is no surprise the vegan eating in the U.S. has skyrocketed by 600 percent in the last three years alone.

Sen. Cruz can joke all he wants but life for animals on factory farms is no laughing matter. Cows, pigs, chickens, fish and other animals used for food feel pain just like our dogs and cats yet nearly all of the millions of them killed for food every year in the U.S. are raised on crowded, filthy factory farms where they are subjected to extreme crowding, a terrifying trip to the slaughterhouse and a violent, painful death.

Tofu can be baked, fried, scrambled, marinated or sautéed. And it’s packed with high-quality protein without the artery-clogging cholesterol and saturated fat of meat, eggs and dairy. Americans are horrified to learn that pigs, cows, chickens and other animals are crammed into filthy sheds and tiny cages, routinely mutilated with no painkillers and having their throats slit while fully conscious

We can all help put an end to this cruelty simply by choosing tofu and other healthy, delicious vegan foods. He can visit to order a free vegan starter kit and see how easy it is to leave animals off of your plate.

They then cheerfully offered me a little specimen cup of barbecued tofu, which I politely declined, because I don’t really like tofu.

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My daughter is a vegan. I admire vegans and vegetarians. I am an omnivore who recognizes — thanks in part to a report my daughter did in high school on factory farming — that if one wants to continue to eat and enjoy meat, it is best not to interrogate too deeply how a lot of that meat got to your table.

But I also guess I believe that eating other animals is the way of the world and is such a source of pleasure that I’m OK with that being an important part of my diet. And while I generally eschew tofu (it’s edible surrounded by better stuff), I refrain from scorning or mocking those for whom it is integral to a vegetarian or vegan diet.  And I’m assuming Cruz shows the same respect at home, where his wife, who grew up Seventh Day Adventist, maintains the vegetarian diet preferred by church members, even though she now worships with her husband as a Baptist.

As Ellen White, co-founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, put it: “The intellectual, the moral, and the physical powers are depreciated by the habitual use of flesh meats. Meat eating deranges the system, beclouds the intellect, and blunts the moral sensibilities. We say to you, dear brother and sister, your safest course is to let meat alone.”

This is what Cruz had said about tofu precisely a week earlier on Sept. 8 in Katy.

As y’all know, it’s election season. We are 59 days out from election day, and we got a fight on our hands. The extreme left — they’re angry, they’re energized, and they hate the president. And I gotta tell you, that’s dangerous. We underestimate that level of fury and rage — we underestimate that at our peril. It means two things. No. 1, we are seeing tens of millions of dollars flooding into the state of Texas from liberals all over the country who desperately want to turn the state of Texas blue [boos]. They want us to be just like California [boos]. Right down to tofu and silicon and dyed hair. And by the way, I married me a California vegetarian. She’s wonderful, but I brought her to the great state of Texas. [applause].

But the second thing it means is, come election day, come November, we are going to see record-setting Democratic turnout here. Now, here’s the good news. This is Texas, and in Texas there are a whole lot more conservatives than there are liberals [applause]. So politically, our tasks the next 59 days is simple. This election comes down to one word: turnout, turnout, turnout, turnout. Our biggest danger is complacency. Look, I don’t think there’s a great risk that a bunch of Texas conservatives are suddenly going to wake up and vote Democrat, but the danger is too many of us might stay home, that we might feel the economy’s booming, work is going well, we’re focused on our job and our family and our church and going to the ballgame, and you just don’t make it to the polls to vote. That’s how we lose the state of Texas. And I’m here today to tell you, that will not happen, not on our watch. 

In Gonzales and Columbus, Cruz struck the same theme, opening his remarks at each stop with, “God bless Texas.”

In Columbus, he continued:

We welcome everyone. Thank you for coming out. God bless. We’re thrilled to see you.

I got to say, when I got here someone told me that even PETA was protesting and giving out barbecued tofu, so I got to say, they summed up the entire election: If Texas elects a Democrat, they’re going to ban barbecue across the state of Texas.

You want to talk about an issue to mobilize the people, and I’m talking everybody.

So I want to thank PETA and I do want to tell PETA you’re going to have to disclose to the FEC that by coming and protesting and giving away tofu, that you have given an in-kind contribution to my campaign by demonstrating just how bad things can get. (Right, right)

Cruz has a good sense of humor. So I heard this as Cruz having, as he would put it, “some fun” with the PETA protesters, and that he did not necessarily mean to literally suggest that, if Texas elects a Democrat, they’re gong to ban barbecue across the state of Texas.

But then again, the crux of Cruz’s campaign is to present Beto O’Rourke as outside Texas’ political and cultural norms, and I think he knows how to deploy humor in a way that seeks to seriously link Beto with tofu in the listener’s mind, while providing him with his just having some fun deniability.

I did a First Reading back in March about how I thought this was the case with the jingle the Cruz campaign came up with mocking O’Rourke’s use of the nickname Beto.

Cruz was asked about the ad at the time on CNN by Chris Cuomo.

Cuomo: Your name is Rafael. You go by Ted. Your middle name is Edward. That’s an Anglicized version of it. He went the other way and has a more ethnic version of his name. Why go after it? You’re both doing the same thing.

Cruz: Well, you’re absolutely right, my name is Rafael Edward Cruz. I am the son of Rafael Cruz, an immigrant from Cuba who came to Texas with nothing, had a hundred dollars in his underwear, couldn’t speak English, washed dishes making 50 cents an hour, and my dad’s journey of coming to Texas seeking freedom, that’s the American story, that’s who we are.

You know in terms of the jingle, some of it is just to have a sense of humor.

We had some fun with it.

But, as I wrote:

Maybe, but I think that little ditty contains within it everything you will need to know about the Cruz campaign against O’Rourke. This is not based on anything anyone has told me. It is simply my intuition.

Ted Cruz means to do nothing less than crush Beto O’Rourke’s candidacy and do so by destroying his good name, or at least, his first name, by turning BETO into a four-letter word, an epithet to be spit out in anger or, better yet, derision, the telling diminutive of a liberal beguiler, imposter and poseur, who is either an opportunist trying to fool Hispanic voters into thinking he is, at least in part, one of them, or, some kind of deluded, self-hating Anglo (albeit Irish-American Anglo), whose sentimental, fuzzy-headed, liberal notions of bi-nationalism and multiculturalism have robbed him of the most basic understanding that what makes Texas Texas is a strong border and unfettered access to guns.

The jingle, and Cruz’s follow-up comments, send the message to his voters that Cruz — the Hispanic son of an immigrant — is, by taking the name “Ted,” assimilating the way it’s supposed to be done, while O’Rourke, by calling himself Beto, is going weirdly the other way, undermining what made America great.

Talk to supporters at Cruz rallies, or read some of their tweets, and that line of attack on Beto as using the name Beto as some cynical act of opportunistic cultural appropriation has taken hold, even if he’s gone by the name since he was small.

So, just because Cruz is smiling, doesn’t mean he’s kidding, or that his audience is not receiving a message associating O’Rourke with an unTexan, pro-tofu, weirdo vegan, animus toward BBQ. This, even though O’Rourke, as a well-known Whataburger consumer (who Cruz spokeswoman Emily Miller famously referred to as a “triple meat Whataburger who is out of touch with Texas values”) is hardly a poster boy for PETA, whose volunteers were not representing the O’Rourke campaign outside the Columbus eatery, and who were also not saying anything about banning meat.

A straw man, times two.

Nonetheless, yesterday, Cruz again tweeted his joke/not-a-joke.

As did Miller.

Not everyone was laughing.

And Bunni Pounds, Cruz’s pick to succeed Jeb Hensarling in Congress (she lost the GOP nomination to Lance Gooden), seemed to be taking seriously Cruz’s suggestion that PETA’s pro-tofu protest was part of a plot to ban meat.

So, is Cruz’s creating a straw man out of tofu, intended to be taken with a grain of salt?

And if so, should the same grain of salt be applied to Cruz’s assertion that O’Rourke wants to take away their guns, which his audiences do not seem to take as some jokey hyperbole.

In this case, a protestor at a Cruz event — Beto guy — is taken as a credible proxy for Beto himself, and, the straw man established, Cruz proceeds to take him down.

Crowd explodes.

Cruz in Columbus:

On guns. on the Second Amendment — or as Beto calls it, the what? — Beto brags about, he has tweeted out how proud he is that has an F rating from the NRA, not a D-minus, not a D, but an F, and I promptly retweeted it. Look, elections are about choices. If you want a big government, gun-grabbing liberal, well the Democrats are giving you one.

But, just because O’Rourke got an F  from the NRA, doesn’t mean he wants to grab everyone’s guns.

From Jeremy Wallace of the Houston Chronicle back in April:

During a pair of campaign stops in Houston on Thursday, Democrat Beto O’Rourke jumped right into the middle of the gun regulation debate, saying he fully backs a call for universal background checks and a proposal to ban the sale of assault-style weapons.

“There is no reason that weapons of war should be sold to people in this country,” O’Rourke told a rousing round of applause from supporters at a town hall meeting at the University of Houston on Thursday.

Hours earlier, he had a similar message at another town hall in the heart of Houston’s East End. O’Rourke told that crowd that he is a co-sponsor on a bill that would ban the sale of weapons like the AR-15, which 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz used int the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in February. An AR-15 was also used in 2012 in the mass killings of 27 — mostly children — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

O’Rourke said those weapons are for one purpose — killing other humans as efficiently as possible.

But O’Rourke, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for re-election, was also careful to stress he is not for taking guns away from anyone and believes the Second Amendment of the Constitution needs to be defended. He told both audiences that his uncle, who was a sheriff’s deputy, taught him how to shoot, and his father instilled lessons about proper gun ownership.

Cruz was also asked in Columbus how he plans to “out-Hispanic” O’Rourke.

Here was the question:

I live in San Antonio, I have a family ranch here and I’m concerned about the all the Beto signs I’ve seen in yards. What are you trying to do to try to out-Hispanic him?

Here was Cruz’s reply:

Number one, he asked about all the Beto signs. There are signs everywhere.

You’re right and the reason is they are raising tens of millions of dollars from all over the country so they have invested about $4 million in signs. You want to know why there are signs everywhere?  $4 million buys a heck of a lot of signs. And why don’t we have signs everywhere? We don’t have $4 million to put into signs.

So that differential is driving it and also it’s being driven by the rage and anger on the far left.

Now you have asked what am I doing to out-Hispanic him.

So I have to tell you, the national press is kind of funny. I was doing an interview a couple of weeks ago with CNN, and CNN asked me, this is their question, “Well, don’t you think it would be good for diversity for Beto to win?” I just kind of looked at him and said, “Because we don’t have enough Irishmen in the Senate?” 

This is the world we live in. I told the reporter, “Look I’m the son of a Cuban immigrant, the first Hispanic senator ever to represent the state of Texas, but you’d rather some left-wing socialist for open borders. That’s not Texas.

On returning from Columbus Saturday night, I did some Googling to try to find that CNN interview in which he was asked that lame-brained question. Did the interviewer not know that Cruz is Hispanic and O’Rourke is not. (Must have missed the Cruz campaign’s Beto jingle.) I couldn’t find anything.

I emailed Emily Miller asking for a cite or link. She replied that the interview had never aired.

Meanwhile, as noted, Cruz had warned that out-of-state liberals were trying to make Texas into California by electing O’Rourke, right down to tofu and silicon and dyed hair.

Of this litany, tofu makes the most sense.

If he meant silicon, as in chips, which is how he pronounced it, it makes no sense that Texans would be anti-high technology. And if he meant silicone, as in breasts, well …

And dyed hair also seems an odd place to draw a politically useful line for Cruz.

Last Monday, Abby Hamblin wondered about Cruz’s California litany in the Los Angeles TimesSen. Ted Cruz used ‘tofu, silicon and dyed hair’ to describe California. Wait, what?

Now we well know how Texas and California have been pitted against each other for a number of reasons over the years. The 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers is a prime example, and we’re also well aware that plenty of Californians have moved to Texas in the past decade.

But this description of Californians is raising a lot of questions, especially on the dyed hair and tofu points. After all, Texas is the home of a $61 million soybean crop in 2017. Tofu is, ahem, a soybean product.

Maybe he should have gone with avocados? But who can say a bad thing about avocados?

Who? Ted Cruz. That’s who.

Per a 2013 Q-and-A with the Des Moines Register:

Perhaps the most surprising detail of the interview was the fact that Cruz, whose father emigrated from Cuba, hates avocado — a staple food in the Southwest.

“I despise avocado. It’s the only food I dislike, and I dislike it passionately,” he said. “Which is ironic, because I’m Cuban, and my dad grew up with avocado trees in his backyard. My whole family eats avocados like crazy, but I can’t stand them.”

From Liz Goulding in the Dallas Observer in October 2013: Ted Cruz Admits He Hates Avocados, Is No Longer Fit to Serve Texas

Texans deserves a senator that represents our interests, and Cruz is clearly unfit for such a task because he doesn’t even understand the people he is serving. How can you understand Texas if you don’t enjoy chips and guacamole on a sunny patio every once and awhile, or if you’ve never discovered that perfect mix of avocado, lime juice, and salt at home? There was a time in my life when I didn’t like guacamole, but I was 10 and then I got over it. Now I couldn’t imagine my life without it. It would be like being colorblind but with my mouth. The things we eat literally become part of the cells in our bodies, and Cruz’s cells aren’t made of any guacamole. Which means I can’t trust him. He might as well have been born in Kenya.

Marfa, August 2018


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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