At a CNN Townhall on Thursday night, Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is opposing incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas, was his typically evasive self when asked about his recent bestowal of the nickname “Lyin’ Ted” on Cruz, a moniker first used by then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016. O’Rourke first claimed he had decided at the beginning of his recent debate with Cruz to attack him for being dishonest. When CNN’s Dana Bash asked if he regretted using the pejorative nickname, O’Rourke suddenly became shy, sighing, “I don’t know that that’s the way that I want to be talking in this campaign.”
Bash began: “You’ve been saying that people are sick of the pettiness and the smallness in politics, yet during Tuesday’s debate that you had with Senator Cruz, you took a page right out of President Trump’s playbook and you called Senator Cruz, 'Lyin’ Ted.' Why did you do that?”
O’Rourke answered, “Yeah, so there have been untold dollars spent on TV ads that are lies, that are dishonest, trying to scare you about me, trying to incite people based on fear. I went through a whole debate at SMU with Senator Cruz where he made up one story after another.”
O’Rourke admitted he decided from the outset of the debate that he would target Cruz by limning him as a liar in general: “And so, at the very outset, when he began with yet another lie, I decided that I could either spend the rest of the debate responding to every single dishonest thing that he said or I could make sure that everyone understood exactly what he’s doing. I said, 'Look, he’s dishonest'; it’s one of the reasons that he got tagged with this nickname and that nickname resonates because it’s true."
Then O’Rourke, possibly realizing that his use of the nickname surely looked premeditated, tried to cover his tracks: “But I gotta tell you, it’s not something that I feel totally comfortable with and perhaps in the heat of the moment, I took a step too far."
Bash gave him a softball question so O’Rourke could double down and make his actions seem less nasty, asking, “Do you regret it?”
O’Rourke, acting as if he really didn’t mean to use the nasty nickname, stuttered, “I … I …. I … (audience laughs in sympathy) don’t know that that’s the way that I want to be talking in this campaign.”
O'Rourke continued by passing the buck, implying it was really his constituents who needed to hear that Cruz was a liar, that he did it for them:
But I also heard from so many people, including many here, that … um … as we focus on the future and define ourselves by our ambitions, all those that I talked about earlier that we should be able to achieve and to lead on, to not answer to these attacks when your opponent says you want to legalize heroin or that you want to take everyone’s guns away, or that you want to open the border, it can invite confusion or questions by people. So, I want to make sure that people know that that’s not true, that that’s dishonest and I also want to make sure that there’s a contrast offered on everything that we want to do, from immigration to education to health care, the choice cannot be any more clear.
Later, O’Rourke claimed he didn’t have a pollster telling him to say “Lyin’ Ted,” adding, “I don’t poll.”