Opinion

How did Beto O'Rourke lose to the most hated politician in America?

Everybody loathes Ted Cruz. So how did he win?

Ted Cruz.

With all due respect to the legions of Betomaniacs whose world-historic dejection I almost feel guilty about mocking, it is worth pointing out that Republican Sen. Ted Cruz did not win re-election in Texas this week. His Democratic opponent just lost.

There is no other way to interpret the result of Tuesday's midterm election in the Lone Star State, where Gov. Greg Abbott, Cruz's fellow conservative Republican, was re-elected by a 13-point margin. Cruz's own majority on the same ballot was far narrower — less than 3 percentage points, an astonishing drop from the ironclad 16 percent with which he won his Senate seat in 2012. Vote totals suggest that 26,000 more votes were cast for governor than for senator.

What happened here? Did a lot of write-ins for Grandma just not get counted? Did people leave the Senate box blank? Were some conservatives voting for Beto O'Rourke out of spite? Whatever the ultimate explanation, it is clear that Texans, Republicans included, were very reluctant to vote for Cruz.

Cruz is probably the most loathed Republican in the country, someone beside whom even President Trump comes off as a lovable geriatric fusspot. That Democrats hate Cruz goes without saying. But he is also almost universally despised by his colleagues in the Senate and by the leadership of his party. John Boehner, the former Republican speaker of the House who was forced to shut down the government in 2013 thanks to Cruz's antics, has called him a "jackass." The late John McCain referred to Cruz as "crazy" and a "wacko bird." His fellow Texan President George W. Bush, under whom Cruz served as an adviser, has said "I just don't like the guy." Andrew Ferguson, who profiled him for a 2013 cover story in The Weekly Standard, was driven to the brink of suicide listening to Cruz respond to his questions by repeating his stump speech verbatim: "I made a quick calculation of how many vertebrae I would damage if I slipped the lock, opened the [car] door, and did a tuck and roll onto the passing pavement. The answer was: too many."

It is not hard to see why he inspires these feelings. Cruz is one of those extraordinary figures in our political life who manages to alienate even his most hardcore ideological allies with the sheer nastiness of his character. As his Princeton roommate Craig Mazin once put it: "Ted Cruz is a nightmare of a human being. I have plenty of problems with his politics but, truthfully, his personality is so awful that 99 percent of why I hate him is just his personality. If he agreed with me on every issue I would hate him only one percent less."

Everyone understands that Mitch McConnell doesn't believe in anything except winning, which is why Cocaine Mitch enjoys his deserved reputation as an amiable cynic. But Cruz wants us to accept that he is a true believer, the principled conservative par excellence, the resolute defender of the Constitution (the text of which he committed to memory as a child), and carries the routine further than almost anyone else would dare. People like this are tolerable, too, after a fashion. Nobody hates Ron Paul. Cruz's problem is that he insists on dressing up his McConnell-like ambitions in a tricorn hat and Margaret Thatcher quotes.

So why didn't O'Rourke beat Cruz? Because this race was run in Texas, and Texas is a red state.

This is why Democrats should not feel elated by their last moral victory. The fact that O'Rourke came within two and a half points of beating Cruz tells us very little about the likelihood of Texas going blue — or at least purple — in the foreseeable future and everything about the sheer unlikeability of its junior senator. A narrow loss for Democrats is, in its way, the most horrifying outcome imaginable, proof positive that even $70 million arrayed against the least appealing man in the nation's most hated political body is no match for the brute facts of political geography.

More From...

Picture of Matthew WaltherMatthew Walther
Read All
The wicked life of John McAfee
John McAfee.
Opinion

The wicked life of John McAfee

The Chauvin verdict should be celebrated
People reacting to the Chauvin verdict.
Opinion

The Chauvin verdict should be celebrated

What is opinion journalism?
A typewriter.
Opinion

What is opinion journalism?

An eyewitness account of atrocities in Tigray
Tigray people.
Feature

An eyewitness account of atrocities in Tigray

Recommended

Bob Dole's hometown grieves the man, his politics
Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole.
rest in peace

Bob Dole's hometown grieves the man, his politics

Hillary Clinton chokes up reading from prepared victory speech
Hillary Clinton
what if...?

Hillary Clinton chokes up reading from prepared victory speech

Trump's 'more dangerous' endorsement strategy
Donald Trump.
change up

Trump's 'more dangerous' endorsement strategy

How chaos makes liberal policy impossible
Hands.
Samuel Goldman

How chaos makes liberal policy impossible

Most Popular

Kathy Griffin slams CNN for firing her but not Jeffrey Toobin
Kathy Griffin
'I loved that gig'

Kathy Griffin slams CNN for firing her but not Jeffrey Toobin

Mace vs. Greene is the fight for the future of the GOP
Mace and Greene.
Picture of W. James Antle IIIW. James Antle III

Mace vs. Greene is the fight for the future of the GOP

What a Roe reversal would mean for Trump
The Supreme Court.
Picture of W. James Antle IIIW. James Antle III

What a Roe reversal would mean for Trump