Don’t believe Ted’s smoked meat smokecreen

Credit: Photo by Boston Globe via Getty Images

To the surprise of many observers, the senate race between incumbent Ted Cruz and upstart challenger Beto O’Rourke in Texas is getting tight. At least one recent poll shows O’Rourke pulling to within one point of Cruz, an almost unthinkable scenario given the incumbent’s status as a high-profile conservative in a red state.

So what’s a guy like Rafael Ted to do when the going gets tough? Rally Texans to his side by baselessly smearing his opponent as a vegan who hates barbecue.

That’s the story from a recent Cruz campaign event at a restaurant in Columbus, Texas, over the weekend. Spurred on by the presence of PETA protestors giving out barbecue tofu at the event, Cruz used the scenario as a chance to paint his opponent as a snooty vegan who's out of touch with the state’s culinary values.

“If Texas elects a Democrat, they’re going to ban barbecue across the state of Texas,” said Cruz at the event, according to the Austin American-Statesman. In a tweet the next day, Cruz doubled down: “@peta protested our town hall yesterday, handing out barbecued tofu. We were glad to welcome them, but it illustrates the stakes of the election: if Beto wins, BBQ will be illegal!”

While Beto O’Rourke is to the left of Cruz on, well, everything, the idea that he’s a tofu-chomping vegan is totally untrue. Beto’s a documented Whataburger fan. The popular Texas Burger chain has featured prominently in at least one of Beto’s frequent Facebook Live videos, and he made national headlines not too long ago for skateboarding through a Whataburger parking lot. A quick Twitter search also reveals that O’Rourke has participated in a number of campaign events that incorporate barbecue in some capacity.

As it turned out, the tofu-touting PETA protestors had no affiliation with Beto’s campaign whatsoever. Somewhat ironically, their goal was not to stump for the Democratic candidate, but to reframe tofu as “bipartisan” after Cruz disparaged the meat alternative at another campaign event a week earlier.

The tofu dig was part of a Cruz rant decrying the “tens of millions of dollars flooding into the state of Texas from liberals all over the country” who “want us to be just like California, right down to tofu and silicon and dyed hair.” According to Dani Alexander, who spoke on behalf of the protestors, PETA’s plan was to remind Cruz and his voters that the soy beans used to make Tofu are an important part of Texan agriculture.

It’s easy to laugh off (not at) the “don’t let secret vegan Beto abolish BBQ” jab, which is emblematic of the try-hard brand of humor Cruz wields to persuade voters he’s anything other than a deeply unlikable opportunist. But in today’s political climate, you can’t help but think that Cruz is banking on at least some constituents taking the claim at face value and even using it as motivation to get out and vote in November.

That’s why some in Beto’s corner, like Lone Star Project (a PAC dedicated to getting Texas Dems elected) director Matt Angle, have been quick to dismiss the bogus BBQ claims before MAGA patriots had a chance to amplify the accusation

Beyond the fact that it’s a patent falsehood, the accusation is ironic not only because vegan barbecue is totally a thing, but also in the sense that Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi is a vegetarian. Oops!

The Texas Senate election is a total tossup at this point. Will Texas voters stick with Cruz or make Beto O’Rourke the first first democrat to win a statewide election in 24 years? By the time the polls close, we’ll either be thinking of Cruz’s barbecue gaffe as a nail in his coffin or a bizarre stroke of genius that propels him to victory on the back of the smoked meat vote. Given that we live in the dumbest of all possible political universes, don’t be shocked if it’s the latter.