“He Wants Nothing to Do With Government, or at Least Our Form of It”: Democrat Beto O’Rourke Wants to Save Texas From Ted Cruz
L’affaire Ted Cruz has ruled the news this week and for good reason: Cruz, a man as unctuous in personality as he is successful in trolling the libs, donned his skinny jeans and went on vacation to Cancún while his home state of Texas was reeling from a freak snowstorm that stranded millions without power, heat, and access to food and water. The groveling interviews Cruz gave upon his swift return, blaming his daughters’ need to escape their cold home for warmer climes (later refuted by now infamous group texts), hasn’t helped his cause.
He also left quite an opening for Beto O’Rourke, Cruz’s one-time rival for Senate, who promptly launched a phone bank to assist the elderly and blasted Cruz in interviews, including this one for the Inside the Hive podcast. O’Rourke artfully ties the storming of the Capitol on January 6 directly to the calamity in Texas, which has become a case study in the inherent flaws of the GOP’s anti-government ideology. Cruz, says O’Rourke, “tried to overturn a lawfully, legitimately, democratically decided election, conspired with seditionists, [and] was very responsible for those who were killed in the insurrection, in the coup attempt on the sixth of January. That guy wants nothing to do with government, or at least our form of it.”
Will Beto O’Rourke, as has been speculated, run for governor of Texas against Greg Abbott in 2022? We asked him.
Vanity Fair: I just want to read you this headline that I just read, “Beto O’Rourke is organizing wellness checks for seniors during Texas blackouts. Ted Cruz is in Cancún.” Quite a contrast. What’d you think when you saw that news hit the wires?
Beto O’Rourke: Just for me, it reinforces how good the people of Texas are—not necessarily that the folks in office and the people in power—but the people of Texas. We had 120 folks join us [Wednesday] night for this essentially statewide welfare check-in where we were calling senior citizens across the state, make sure they have electricity, make sure they have water, make sure they have food. And for those who don’t, to connect them with help that they need.
For example, we talked to this elderly gentlemen in Killeen, Texas, which is where Fort Hood is, and [he] hadn’t eaten in two days. Didn’t know where to get help. We connected him with the Skyline Baptist Church in Killeen, which is the local warming center. They provided transportation, got him to a hot meal. And then just the folks that you connect with who just need to know that you know that they’re alive. They’ve been isolated in a cold, dark home where if they have any power, they use it to boil the water because 7 million Texans are under a boil-water notice. For them to get a phone call from another human being is pretty fucking powerful, and is powerful both for the person who receives the call and a hope for the volunteers who are doing this work in Texas.
And Joe, we had people making phone calls to senior citizens who were making the calls from their cars because there was no electricity or power or heat in their homes. Anyhow, so yeah, I mean the Ted Cruz thing, as they say, true to form, but I don’t know how much we were expecting from him to begin with. The people of Texas have really stepped up and make me really proud.
My first thought was, “You may not have beat Ted Cruz in the Senate race, but now you’re doing his job.”
Well, there are a lot of people in Texas who are trying to do that job and to help out. And you’ve got folks in government, Ted Cruz, a great example, who don’t believe in government or don’t believe in our form of government. He tried to overturn a lawfully, legitimately, democratically decided election, conspired with seditionists, was very responsible for those who were killed in the insurrection, in the coup attempt on the sixth of January. That guy wants nothing to do with government, or at least our form of it. Then you’ve got [Texas governor] Greg Abbott who, along with other extremist right-wing Republicans just don’t believe that government is there to do the things that probably you and I, and many of your listeners understand government to exist for. Like in the midst of the worst storm in Texas history, bar none that has already killed a couple dozen of our fellow Texans who’ve died of carbon monoxide poisoning, who have died of exposure, who’ve died as their homes burned down, as they try to keep themselves warm, is just not there. And is denying the science and the facts. [With] the deregulated electricity market that you have in Texas, where there was no mandate or incentive to provide extra capacity for emergencies like these, or to weatherize your energy supplies, whether it’s coal-fired plants or gas-fired plants or wind turbines or solar, we just weren’t prepared because those in power in our government right now don’t think that government should play that role in trying to avert a catastrophe like the one that we’re experiencing.
And then the overarching issue of climate change, which has produced these extreme weather events, whether it was Hurricane Harvey, which dumped more rain in a 24-hour period than has ever been dumped in North America in recorded history, or the severe droughts that we see in north Texas in the panhandle or this winter storm, which is the worst storm bar none that we’ve ever had in the state of Texas, this stuff is only going to become more frequent, more unpredictable, more severe, more deadly, especially if we do not change course. And the folks in charge in Texas just literally do not believe the science or the truth behind climate change and our contributions to it. So that’s the consequence, that’s the cost that we bear right now.
It’s like an X-ray of the failures of the entire ideology in the state of Texas.
That’s right, you don’t have to look further than this storm, but, if you were to, you would encounter an incredibly botched rollout for the COVID vaccine in Texas, where they basically said to each one of the 254 counties—you’re on your own, good luck trying to find the people who need to get vaccinated. Or prior to that, the government’s response or lack thereof to the pandemic and ignoring the public health and the scientific guidance that would have saved tens of thousands of lives. And as you know, those who lost their lives were disproportionately in communities of color, Native American communities, communities along the border, El Paso. My hometown was the deadliest city for a while, bar none. Now it’s Laredo, Texas. Prior to that, it was McAllen. Yeah, that’s what’s happening right now. And you’re right, this unfortunately tells you what happens when you have people in government who don’t believe in government.
I just interviewed Colorado congressman Joe Neguse, who was so powerful during the impeachment hearing last week, a bright star in the Democratic Party. But this Republican Party did not bring a check or a balance on its own worst impulses [during the impeachment trial]. The base of that party will always forgive them. But what’s happening in Texas right now seems genuinely unforgivable, and Ted Cruz’s behavior seems genuinely unforgivable. Do you think that there’s any Rubicon that these guys can cross where the voters will call them to account for not managing or not governing?
Yeah, it’s a great question. I don’t know that any of us know the answer, because, as your question implies, due to the fact that we live in a democracy and this is government of, by, and for the people, however, imperfectly, and however many people are kept out of government in states like Texas that make it so hard to register and to vote in the first place. The folks who are in power are in power because people voted for them, and they voted for them in many instances despite their absolute and abject failure in their most essential responsibility. In this case, saving and protecting the lives of the people who are in your trust, in your care and who you were elected to serve and represent. Or, in Ted Cruz’s case, to traffic in the kind of lies and sedition and conspiracy that have produced this constitutional and democratic crisis that we have in our country right now. But thank God for people like Joe Neguse, who I did not know anything about before I listened to his extraordinary remarks in the House manager’s case against Donald Trump. He’s an all-time American hero right along with Jamie Raskin and Stacey Plaskett, Joaquin Castro, and others who helped to make that case. But he’s somebody who gives me some hope, and maybe even some confidence that we’re going to find our way through it. I think when you have such a powerful contrast or alternative to Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley in someone like Joe Neguse, it’s hard not to be drawn to him.
And, as you said, perhaps, this total failure in leadership that you’re seeing in Texas that has left so many dead, so many without water, so many without food—remember, supermarkets are just barren right now, and that’s, if you can get into them when you’re waiting in line for two to three hours, because there’s so many people who are trying to get food. That has got to prompt a rethinking in the mind of the Texas voter. And then it’s going to be a competition for who can provide those services, that governance and that competence going forward. At least I hope that’s what it’s going to be about, we’ll see.
Do you have any interest in running for governor of Texas?
Right now I’m super lucky to be doing what I’m doing. I’m working with this organization called Powered by People that’s led this effort, for example, to reach out to all these senior citizens across Texas, and it’s going to be working on voter registration and removing the impediments to voting in Texas for the remainder of this year. I’m teaching at Texas State and at the LBJ school at U.T. So I want to make sure that I’m focused on that, focused on doing what I can in this current crisis. And then down the road can think about whether there is a role for me to play in supporting those who are running for office or perhaps seeking office myself. But for now, I want to make sure that I’m focused on what’s most important and urgent, and that’s this crisis in Texas.
Well, I appreciate you making the time, I know you’re a really busy guy right now, helping the people of Texas, thank you. As a fellow Texan, I thank you. I’ve got relatives down there who don’t have power themselves, and we’re hoping for the best for them. But thanks for coming on Inside the Hive, and we hope very much to have you back.
I’d love to do that. And thanks for having me on, I hope your relatives and all the Texans who are listening to this right now are safe. That they’ve got power by now. They’ve got water. They’re able to feed themselves. And just grateful to everyone who’s looking out for one another and taking care of their neighbors, that’s the Texan way.
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