“Ridiculous fun” on Poker After Dark
On the week when the good people with guns sat on their hands for an hour while 19 children and two teachers were being massacred in an elementary school in his home state of Texas, Republican Senator Ted Cruz went to the NRA Convention to defend gun rights, insisting that “the existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens.”
Ted Cruz was brag-tweeting about the “ridiculous fun” he had playing poker
On the day when several of those children were being buried, Ted Cruz was brag-tweeting about the “ridiculous fun” he had playing poker on a just-aired episode of PokerGO’s Poker After Dark.
It was beyond tone-deafness from the Texas senator. It was insensitivity to the point of callousness, insouciance to the point of sociopathy, cruelty to the point of heartlessness.
Fool me once, grandma
Republican Senator Lindsay Graham once said that “if you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” During the 2016 Republican presidential primary race, fellow candidate Marco Rubio said “Ted has had a tough week because what’s happening now is people are learning more about him.”
Suffice to say, Cruz has always been unpopular in his own party and it’s hard to imagine his rise to power without his use of Robert Mercer-funded political RTA (Real-Time Assistance) in the form of Cambridge Analytica. He fundamentally lacks the charm, charisma, and people skills normally associated with even the most detestable of politicians so it was interesting to see how he would come across on Poker After Dark, a show that famously leaves in the boring bits and has the commentator play second fiddle to the table talk.
the young Cruz cried all the way home
In a quick interview, Cruz explained how he learned poker as a young boy. He told the story about little “Rafael” (his real name) saving up his 50 cents allowance for ten weeks and bringing the $5 to his grandmother’s kitchen-come-poker table. Meemaw was clearly a card shark so the money didn’t last long and the young Cruz cried all the way home.
That got me thinking about how that must have been a formative moment for Cruz who was determined to never again be outplayed by some wily old timers. I remembered how, in 2018, his campaign used suspicious mailers to trick elderly Texans into donating to his campaign. Then, I recalled how in December 2021, he refused to wear a mask in the presence of dozens of elderly folks at Bob Dole’s funeral.
“Fool me once grandma…”
Lucifer in the flesh
The poker world knew this poker appearance was coming. Back in August, Phil Hellmuth tipped us off to the news that Cruz was going to be on a future episode of Poker After Dark.
The lineup was completed by poker legend Doyle Brunson, chess player and commentator Alex Botez, conservative broadcaster/pundit Clay Travis, real estate investor Graham Stephan and YouTube superstar MrBeast. As soon as the episode dropped, Cruz took to Twitter to publicize it.
Some in the poker community responded positively and even suggested that this might be a positive step for online poker’s chances of legalization at the federal level. Brunson tweeted his own endorsement of the Texas Senator.
Then it wasn’t long before Hellmuth was getting in on the act.
The vast majority of people, however, were disgusted, many offering colorful critiques of the man once described by Republican Former House speaker John Boehner as “Lucifer in the flesh.”
Cruz’s tweets and appearance sparked outrage in the poker community
As the country mourned the 27th school shooting of the year and the third worst in its history, Cruz followed that up that initial tweet with three more tweets about his poker exploits, much to the disgust of American poker and chess pro Jennifer Shahade:
The show may have been recorded in August, but Cruz has been a controversial figure in American politics for two decades. He supports the overturning of Roe v. Wade. He opposes same sex marriage and civil unions. He rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. He opposes expanding gun control regulations.
With that no doubt in mind, EPT champion Ben Wilinofsky placed some of the blame at Cruz’s tablemates, who would surely have known the lineup ahead of time:
Cancún Cruz accused of not being there for his constituents again
This is not the first time that Senator Cruz has been thoughtless at a time when his constituents needed him to behave like a statesman. In February 2021, Texas suffered severe power outages during a snowstorm. As millions of people faced the freezing temperatures – and 246 died – Cruz was spotted boarding a flight to Cancún, Mexico.
After photos of Cruz on the plane went viral, the senator returned to Texas. Facing harsh criticism, he spun an unlikely cover story that he did the 1,000-mile round-trip to merely “accompany his daughters” for whom he was just “trying to be a good dad.” It was a fairly transparent bluff.
Cruz should be leading the charge, but instead he’s complicit in the systemic problems
Today, Texas is still reeling from a heartbreaking tragedy. In many ways, America is numb to the mass shootings which have become a horrific part of everyday life. It should be a time for action; for gun reform and for huge investments in mental health services. Cruz should be leading the charge, but instead he’s complicit in the systemic problems, in the pocket of the NRA, and the single biggest recipient of money from pro-gun individuals and groups of anyone in Congress. That is why these “fun” tweets are so especially contemptible.
CNN and Telemundo contributor Ana Navarro-Cárdenas was particularly appalled by the timing of his tweets:
Qasim Rachid went as far as to suggest that Cruz’s lack of sympathy was intentional:
Lessons not learned
When it came to the poker itself, Cruz was on the nittier side, defending his big blind more than he defended his wife Heidi from Donald Trump’s verbal attacks, but less than he defended a ban on sex toys in 2007.
In the one hand of significance that he played, he three-bet Phil Hellmuth with pocket nines and got The Poker Brat to fold King-Ten. Poker veteran and raconteur Barny Boatman was on form as usual with his commentary, alluding to how, on January 6, even as the Capitol was being ransacked by domestic terrorists, Cruz supported the efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory.
Cruz’s political positions and actions have made him a polarizing figure in American life, but separate from that is his consistent lack of humanity in moments that requires compassion. There are times when you should put partisanship to one side and just be a decent human being.
In June 2015, on the night before Beau Biden’s funeral, Cruz made fun of Joe Biden in a public speech. He later apologized, calling it a mistake to behave so flippantly “during his time of grief.” The Senator clearly never learned his lesson.