It can’t be fun to be a high-profile politician most of the time. Every second spent in the public eye is captured on video, meaning that every awkward moment, unfortunate wardrobe choice and bad hair day is preserved not just for posterity, but for the continual use of opponents in embarrassing political ads.
But annoying photographers and videographers aren’t the only people out there able to create images, and that’s something Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has apparently decided to use to his advantage.
Earlier this week, President Obama obliquely called out Cruz, a mid-tier GOP presidential candidate, during a speech at the G-20 summit in Turkey. Cruz had called on the administration to limit the acceptance of refugees from the civil war in Syria to Christians only. Imposing a religious test, Obama said, would be un-American. It was even worse, he implied, when the test was proposed by someone whose own family – like Cruz, the son of a Cuban refugee – had been helped by the same type of program.
Cruz hit back the next day in a televised interview, saying, “If you want to insult me you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries, but I would encourage you, Mr. President: Come back an insult me to my face. Let’s have a debate on Syrian refugees right now.”
So far, so normal, really. A tough-guy challenge to a president from an opposition politician with presidential ambitions isn’t exactly surprising. But the Cruz campaign, in an apparent effort to make as much political hay as possible, is trying to use the minor dust-up to drive fundraising, including an online effort to shame Obama into debating the Texas senator.
By Thursday morning, the Cruz campaign website had launched a fundraising campaign based on the candidate’s challenge, complete with a really fascinating cartoon graphic.
Pictured as an old-time boxer in a striped muscle shirt, Cruz is shown reclining on his stool in the corner of the ring, opposite an empty stool reserved for his opponent (with a helpful “Obama” sign hanging over it). Cruz is shown with his (massive!) muscular arms stretched languidly out on the ropes, and his … umm … generously chiseled jaw turned toward the viewer. The Cruz campaign logo is tattooed on his right shoulder.
It’s not the first time the Cruz campaign has pushed out art depicting the candidate as a hyper-masculine tough guy.
Last year, the conservative graffiti artist Sabo put out a stark black and white piece that depicts Cruz as a sort of 1950s-era anti-establishment figure, leaning against a wall with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, stripped to (at least) the waist, and covered with any number of really unlikely tattoos, including Winston Churchill in his right biceps and a woman who might be his wife, Heidi Cruz, on his neck.
For $55, the Cruz campaign will sell you a copy. The campaign will also sell you another piece of Sabo’s work – a poster based on the recent film “Straight Outta Compton” that tells the story of the seminal rap group N.W.A. The Cruz poster, though, says he’s “Straight Outta Congress.” This one costs only $30, presumably because the senator is clothed.
The Cruz campaign’s implicit endorsement of what amounts to fan art is more or less understandable. The candidate is not the most physically imposing person in the race and anything that suggests otherwise is probably seen as, at minimum, a net gain.
The Cruz campaign, though, isn’t in charge of all the world’s Ted Cruz fan fiction. And while they might appreciate the sentiment, it’s not obvious that a crop of posters that appeared in San Francisco in advance of a Cruz speech last year depicting him as a badly Photoshopped superhero called the Liberator, were necessarily welcome.
And it would be incredible, frankly, if the campaign were at all pleased with the Ted Cruz comic book that has, in the past few years, made the rounds in both conservative and mainstream media.
In another campaign season, the Cruz team’s decision to embrace supporters’ unconventional images of the candidate as part of the campaign’s public relations strategy might have been seen as odd. But in the GOP’s 2016 race, with a cartoon character leading in the polls, it looks like a reasonable strategy.