John Cornyn, our senior U.S. senator, is blessed by genetics — he looks like a U.S. senator (or at least the way senators looked back when they all looked like that) – but, this year, he’s cursed by politics.
Cornyn is a reasonable Republican in a year when reasonable is running second to something else on the GOP side. Departing from GOP orthodoxy, he does not seem to believe every Democrat wants to eat your children. He says he voted for some Democrats on Wednesday. More on that in a minute; turns out it’s not quite the political kumbaya it sounds like.
After he voted at the George Washington Carver Library in East Austin, Cornyn chatted with journalists. When he did that in February after casting his primary vote, Cornyn demurred when I asked this: “We can assume, of course, that you voted for your Texas Senate colleague, Sen. (Ted) Cruz. He’s a Texan. You work closely with him. I’m sure you consider him a good friend. So you probably voted for him, correct?”
“Um,” Cornyn replied back then, “nice try, Ken.”
It’s a weird presidential election year when a GOP senator doesn’t back the other GOP senator from his state. And weirdness reigned again Wednesday when Cornyn laughed about the Republican for whom he voted for president.
“I voted for, uh, Mr. Trump, my party’s nominee and voted for a split ballot down ballot, some people I know personally here and in Travis County who I respect,” he said, “so that’s who I voted for.”
Lots to chew on in there as Cornyn, characteristically, was unflappable. I’ve never seen him flapped. If you have video of him in a state of flappage please share it.
What are we to make of the ever-so-brief “uh” before he said “Mr. Trump?” We perhaps can get some insight into that by way of a Cornyn answer to this later question from me: “Senator, were you excited to vote for Mr. Trump? Is he the leader America has been looking for for many years?”
“Ha, ha, ha,” Cornyn said, offering a glimpse into his soul. “I’m voting for Mr. Trump because it’s a binary choice, and I know Mrs. Clinton is not that leader, and, frankly, if she is elected I’m fearful that her tenure would be marked by the sort of gridlock that we’ve seen for a long time. And, in fact, she’s been pulled to the left by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.”
So, I asked, “Is it fair to say he is not who you had hoped you’d be voting for today?”
“Well,” Cornyn said, “we had 17 choices in the Republican primary, and he wasn’t my first choice.”
Reprising his February nonanswer, he wouldn’t say who was.
“But giving the candidates who won the nominations credit,” he said. “I mean that’s our process and so that’s the choice we have. We can’t whine about the choices we have. We have to make a selection, and I did.”
Sure, but, as I told Cornyn, we can whine about the process. Is there anything whine-worthy about the process?
“We all like to complain about the process, but I think there’ll be a lot of questions raised here about how we ended up with two very unpopular nominees, in a country of 320 million people, being the choices that we have,” he said in what I’d call a low-wattage whine. “But this country is bigger, our government is bigger than just one person, and I look forward to whoever is elected working with them in the best interests of Texas and the best interests of the country.”
And what are we to make of the fact that Cornyn didn’t vote a straight GOP ticket? Is it possible he thinks there are Dems who don’t want to eat your children?
In declining to say which Dems got his vote, Cornyn said, “It’s just some people who I know personally and have high regards for.” Voting for people from whom you have high regard, regardless of party? Blasphemer!
Turns out Cornyn’s bipartisanship is not as high-minded as it might appear. An aide later clarified that Cornyn “was referring to some of the local judicial races where there was no Republican on the ballot.” There are Republicans who will tell you that even unopposed Democrats want to eat your children.
My last question was a spin forward to the 2018 election cycle, which begins three minutes after the end of the 2016 election cycle. Cruz is up for re-election in 2018, and U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Austin, might challenge him in the GOP primary.
“Senator,” I said to Cornyn, “your friend and colleague Ted Cruz we assume will be running for re-election. So we can all assume you’re ready to endorse him for re-election, correct?”
“Um,” Cornyn said, referring back his answer to a previous question about post-2016 politics. “I’ll say one election at a time, Ken.”
OK, but we’ve got to think that this one particular election — one in which his answer to a question about the leadership qualities of his party’s nominee starts with “Ha, ha, ha” — is one Cornyn’s ready to put behind him.
Aren’t we all?
Depressing reminder: We move the clocks back an hour Sunday morning. That means this election season lasts an extra hour.
See video with this column at mystatesman.com.