Senator Ted Cruz is nothing if not optimistic. There's really no other explanation for why the junior senator from Texas opted to spend Fourth of July in McAllen, a reliably Democratic section of the state where his visit was met with protesters eager to give Cruz a talking-to about the Senate's current efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
It wasn't a simple walk in the park for Cruz this time around as he had to deal with hecklers and protesters throughout the day.
While Cruz excels at dealing with opposition when he's standing on the Senate floor or baiting opponents on a debate stage, he doesn't always do so well with regular people, as we've noted before. On Tuesday he had to struggle to be heard throughout his part in the Fourth of July festivities as protesters shouted at him while supporters countered that interruption with their own chants of "USA," according to the Texas Tribune.
To Cruz's credit, he handled the protests and general commotion with some grace. "Isn't freedom wonderful?" Cruz said shortly after taking the stage. "Think about it: In much of the world, if protesters showed up, they would face violent government oppression. In America, we've got something different."
Cruz, who already has one challenger, Democratic U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke, in the upcoming midterm elections in 2018, has been hard at work trying to remake his image as a guy who is not only an obstructionist, but who also actually gets legislation passed, as we've pointed out. If the Senate bill to repeal and replace Obamacare actually becomes law, many are already saying that Cruz will be one of the reasons that happened.
But as was evident on Tuesday, being the guy who helps get rid of the Affordable Care Act may not see Cruz go from being obnoxious and disliked to celebrated and beloved across Texas.
Even the fact that Cruz was going to be in McAllen on Independence Day drew some criticism that pushed McAllen's mayor to justify the visit. Mayor Jim Darling released a statement after the news broke that Cruz would be attending, arguing that this was a chance for both sides to "engage in productive dialogue."
Darling has a point. Cruz is working hard to reshape his image in the face of the upcoming election — this marked his third trip to McAllen since December — and in some ways just having him there is a chance for those with other views to show Cruz there are other constituents out there and other opinions than the ones that he usually caters to.
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But not everyone decided to bide his time. A local immigrant rights group, La Union del Pueblo Entero, weighed out the chance to meet with Cruz privately during his trip but decided to hold out for a town hall meeting, where Cruz would have to hear and respond to their concerns in full view of the public. The town hall they were hoping for didn't happen, but Cruz did have to deal with the protesters, partly because of the sheer number of them and the volume of their heckling.
Cruz handled the animosity he was greeted with fairly smoothly, working the crowd before his speech and speaking with supporters and protesters alike, but he did balk at directly engaging with the most indignant cluster of opponents, who were grouped in the bleachers holding signs that said "Ted wants us dead," and "Cruzin for a Bruzin 2018."
Of course, because Cruz is still Cruz, he ultimately underplayed the number of people who had turned out for the explicit purpose of booing and heckling him, describing them as a "small group of people on the left who right now are very angry," according to Talking Points Memo.
But on the upside, Cruz did show up and actually hear what some of his non-Republican constituents had to say. In the current political climate, that alone seems like something.