Columns » Autumn Tolbert

Attack fail

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If you did not follow the drama surrounding last week's attempt by the Republican Party of Texas to embarrass Sen. Ted Cruz's opponent, U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, you may have missed one of the biggest political blunders of this election season. O'Rourke, running against one of the most awkward candidates in politics, is guilty, according to the Texas GOP, of having been in a band in college, remaining physically fit enough to still ride a skateboard, and completing a diversion program after being charged with a DWI 20 years ago. Oh, and all that talk about a burglary arrest? That, according to reliable reports, was a misdemeanor charge stemming from O'Rourke jumping a fence at a college in his hometown and was never prosecuted.

After a series of tweets posting photographic evidence of these "crimes," including a decades-old mugshot, a band press photo and a screenshot of O'Rourke's viral skateboard ride in a Whataburger parking lot, the response was not what was intended. The photos of O'Rourke were shared widely with mostly positive comments pointing out that O'Rourke was more like his voters than the stiff and out-of-touch Cruz.

I'm not sure what the person running the Texas GOP social media account thought would happen. Was the fact that O'Rourke was in a band supposed to turn off baby boomers? The same people who went bonkers over Elvis "The Pelvis" Presley despite the censors only allowing him to be filmed from the waist up during an early television appearance? The same people who, depending on their politics, either cheered on President Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on "The Arsenio Hall Show" or Gov. Mike Huckabee playing bass on "The Tonight Show"?

Or is it that O'Rourke appears to be wearing a dress in the band photo? Is this a further effort by the GOP to fuel transphobia? Maybe some older voters will take the bait, but most members of Generation X who grew up with the androgyny of David Bowie, Kurt Cobain and Prince won't blink an eye at O'Rourke's musical-era fashion choices. Anyone who attended a liberal arts college in the 1990s, watched MTV or actually got the point of "Fight Club" is probably not going to be offended by a musician in a dress.

And I can't even begin to imagine who should be outraged at O'Rourke for skateboarding. At age 45, the father of three proved he is still physically fit enough to manage to take a short ride on a supporter's board in a parking lot. Are we still having to argue that skateboarding is not a crime? Anyone remember when Cruz referred to a basketball hoop as a "basketball ring" a few years ago? Now there's a crime.

What the Texas GOP and other GOP politicians and party directors don't understand is what offends many millennials and Gen Xers is exactly what Cruz represents: out of touch politicians who ignore the realities of overwhelming student loan debt, rising costs of health care and childcare, and stagnant wages. O'Rourke hosts monthly town halls. He supports single-payer health care, a position popular with younger voters. He supports decriminalization of marijuana and bail reform. Cruz is known for kowtowing to Donald Trump after Trump, during the 2016 primary, insulted Cruz's wife and accused his father of taking part in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. How can voters expect Cruz to stand up for them when he can't even stand up for his own family?

It nearly defies logic to think that the Texas GOP expects to hit a nerve with voters by promoting O'Rourke's old DWI arrest while supporting a president who has been implicated by his own attorney in a federal crime, scammed hardworking people out of money with his bogus real estate university, and has a history of not paying his bills. But I guess no one ever claimed anything in politics makes sense. History shows too many voters are swayed by a good misinformation campaign. We learned that the hard way with the swift-boating of John Kerry, the idea that Hillary Clinton was a conniving murderess who did away with her political opponents, and the ridiculous birther conspiracy against Barack Obama that ended up paving the way for Trump. For heaven's sake, right now we have people buying in to Vice President Mike Pence's ridiculous reminiscing about living in a "more respectful time" as he props up a president who respects no one save himself. Maybe the person running the O'Rourke smear campaign for the Texas GOP is smarter than we think. I hope not. The logical thing for Texans, come November, is to do the rest of the country a favor by voting for O'Rourke.

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