There’s aren’t many people who have advocated for Texas as artfully as Richard Linklater. From Dazed and Confused to Boyhood to Everybody Wants Some!!, his films have portrayed life in the state with the delicate touch of someone who truly understands it. Despite his success, he favors Austin over Hollywood, opting to live less than 200 miles from the Houston area where he was born and raised. His latest effort, “Tough as Texas” is just over 30 seconds and hit the web Monday night. It features one setting, a distinctly Texan coffee shop, and one character, a distinctly Texan man, who has a good laugh talking shit about someone he doesn’t deem very Texan at all: Ted Cruz.
“Somebody left something on my door the other day. It said ‘Ted Cruz: Tough as Texas,'” the man says. “If somebody called my wife a dog and said my daddy was in on the Kennedy assassination, I wouldn’t be kissing their ass. You stick a finger in their chest and give them a few choice words. Or you drag their ass out by the woodshed and kick their ass, Ted. Come on … Ted.”
The ad — which was paid for by an anti-Cruz PAC and was not endorsed by his senate opponent, Beto O’Rourke — is beautiful in its simplicity, and strikes to the heart of Cruz’s campaign, which has revolved around the idea that he is more authentically Texan than his challenger. As O’Rourke has risen in the polls, Cruz has relied on cultural appeals, claiming that his opponent wants to turn Texas into California “right down to tofu and silicon and dyed hair.” He later joked that O’Rourke would work to ban barbecue in the state. But more important to the state’s identity than its culinary offerings is backbone, and, as the ad points out, Cruz hasn’t done much to show he has any.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Cruz was locked in a vicious battle with Donald Trump. In March, Trump retweeted an image implying that Cruz’s wife Heidi was ugly. Cruz retaliated by tweeting a skimpy photo of Melania, prompting Trump to threaten to “spill the beans” on Heidi if Cruz wasn’t “careful.” A few months later, Trump floated the idea that Cruz’s father may have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which took place in Dallas. Though Cruz decried the attacks at the time, he has since fallen in line with the rest of the Republican party, cowing to the president at every turn.
Linklater’s ad isn’t the first time opponents of Cruz have harkened back to his 2016 tussle with Trump. After it was announced that Trump would host a rally in Texas to help resuscitate Cruz’s surprisingly close reelection bid, several people pointed to a tweet in which the president bashed the senator’s record in the state he represents. “Why would the people of Texas support Ted Cruz when he has accomplished absolutely nothing for them,” Trump tweeted in February 2016. “He is another all talk, no action pol!” A group of activists including Parkland survivor David Hogg soon raised thousands of dollars in an effort to turn the tweet into a mobile billboard.
— Antonio (@AntonioArellano) September 28, 2018
This is far from the first time Linklater has been critical of Cruz. “Cruz to me is more scary than Trump,” he told The Guardian in April 2016. “He actually believes what he says. Trump doesn’t believe anything — he’s just a needy narcissist. Cruz is seen as the smart guy, but nobody’s asked him: ‘How old is the world?’ ‘Do you believe in biology?’ Because he doesn’t.” A few months earlier, he described the then-presidential candidate as “evil” and “calculating” in an interview with The Daily Beast. “Cruz is radioactive,” he said. “On closer inspection, I don’t think he has a chance.”
Linklater was right about Cruz in 2016. Time will tell how effective his new ad — and the Beto O’Rourke short film contest he is sponsoring — will be in booting Cruz out of the Senate. An ongoing poll launched Monday by the New York Times currently has Cruz leading O’Rourke by 12 percentage points. A poll released Sunday by Emerson College has Cruz up by only 5 points. Trump bested Hillary Clinton in Texas by 9 points in 2016.