Beto O'Rourke says he regrets using a Trump insult for Ted Cruz

Beto O'Rourke says he regrets referring to Ted Cruz as "Lyin' Ted," a Trump insult, during one of their debates

By Matthew Rozsa

Published October 21, 2018 3:45PM (EDT)

Ted Cruz; Beto O'Rourke (Getty/Jim Watson/AP/LM Otero)
Ted Cruz; Beto O'Rourke (Getty/Jim Watson/AP/LM Otero)

Rep. Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat hoping to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate election, is shying away from an insulting nickname, "Lyin' Ted," that he used against the incumbent during a recent debate.

"That wasn't the best phrase for me to use, but, you know, I'm going to do my best to stay focused on the future," O'Rourke told ABC's The Week in a prerecorded segment that aired on Sunday, according to Politico. The Democratic nominee was specifically referring to a moment during his second debate with Cruz when O'Rourke declared, "He's dishonest. That's why the president called him 'Lyin' Ted,' and it's why the nickname stuck — because it's true."

There is a distinct irony in O'Rourke citing Trump's derisive moniker for Cruz. After Cruz became Trump's foremost challenger for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, the then-reality TV star began calling his opponent "Lyin' Ted" as part of a larger and unusually ugly smear campaign. As the primary wore on, Trump insinuated that Cruz's father had been involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, posted a tweet which joked that Cruz's wife Heidi was less attractive than Trump's wife Melania and even implied that he had dirt on Cruz's spouse. In response, Cruz denounced Trump in the harshest terms, telling reporters that "it's not easy to tick me off. I don't get angry often. But you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that will do it every time. Donald Trump, you're a sniveling coward. Leave Heidi the hell alone."

Although the president is now supporting Cruz's reelection campaign — with the two men having reconciled once Trump ascended to the presidency — O'Rourke's insult attempted to use the president's own assessment of Cruz's character against him. Because Texas voted overwhelmingly for Trump in the 2016 presidential election, O'Rourk's decision to reference Trump could have an underlying political logic. Recent polls show Cruz with a consistent lead over O'Rourke, spanning anywhere from five to nine percentage points, which has prompted the Democrat to wage a more aggressive campaign as Election Day approaches.

Because O'Rourke has raised more money for his campaign than any Senate candidate in history — more than $38 million as of Friday — he could be careening toward a political humiliation. If he loses the most well-funded Senate campaign ever, Democrats who are already begrudging his large war chest and insisting that he should share it with other candidates could hold that defeat against him in the future.

"It will be bad for everyone, Beto included, if he finishes his race with money in the bank when that money could’ve helped elect Democrats in Missouri, Tennessee or North Dakota," Matthew Miller, a veteran Democratic strategist and Texas native, told The New York Times earlier this month. O'Rourke has even received money from Democrats in states where there are also competitive races, including a report of an upcoming O'Rourke fundraiser in Missouri, where Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill is locked in a tight reelection campaign.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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