When The Washington Post published and then retracted a cartoon depicting Ted Cruz’s daughters as monkeys on Tuesday, the Texas senator reacted with indignation. So did many others.
But within hours, Cruz was highlighting the incident, writing, “I’m sickened” in a fundraising email that featured the cartoon.
The episode — which occurred after a campaign ad showed Cruz reading politically themed parodies of children’s Christmas classics to his two young daughters — highlighted a longstanding taboo against the news media turning a critical lens on candidates’ children, even when campaigns use them as props and stump speech fodder. Cruz, for one, often holds up his daughters on stage at rallies and once read them “Green Eggs and Ham” via C-SPAN during a Senate filibuster.
He is not alone: On Monday, Hillary Clinton’s campaign published a listicle featuring granddaughter Charlotte, titled “7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela,” that was panned as an act of “Hispandering.” On Tuesday, John Kasich trotted out his wife and 15-year-old twin daughters for a television interview with New Hampshire’s NH1, calling them “my secret weapon.” This summer, Scott Walker’s sons, Alex and Matt, contributed personal articles about their dad to the right-leaning website IJReview. In last week’s Republican debate, Carly Fiorina cited her stepdaughter’s death by drug overdose in making the case that she is tough enough to be commander in chief.
The use of candidates’ children in campaigns is just another part of the process, said conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace, a Cruz supporter. “Four years ago, [Rick] Santorum’s kids were here constantly. People were constantly worried, concerned, praying for Bella,” he said, referring to Santorum’s daughter, now 7, who suffers from a potentially fatal chromosomal condition. “She almost had as high name recognition as he did.”
But when the kids get swept up in critical political commentary, the backlash can be fierce. Within hours of putting it online, the Post pulled the cartoon, which depicted Cruz as an organ grinder with a Santa hat, holding two leashed monkeys representing Caroline, 7, and Catherine, 5.
Before seizing on the incident in a fundraising appeal, Cruz tweeted, “Classy. @washingtonpost makes fun of my girls. Stick w/ attacking me—Caroline & Catherine are out of your league.”
His rivals for the Republican nomination also used the occasion to ding the media. Trump tweeted, “The @washingtonpost, which is the lobbyist (power) for not imposing taxes on #Amazon, today did a nasty cartoon attacking @tedcruz kids. Bad.” Marco Rubio called the cartoon “disgusting” in a tweet.
The cartoonist, Pulitzer Prize-winner Ann Telnaes, defended her work. “Ted Cruz has put his children in a political ad—don’t start screaming when editorial cartoonists draw them as well,” she tweeted.
Deace said that Cruz’s desire to keep his kids close on the campaign trail was understandable. “He’s a young dad … You look for every opportunity you can to spend time with your kids.”
For young children, Deace called the opportunity to experience a presidential campaign firsthand “a living history lesson.” Indeed, at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, in July, Cruz paused during a press gaggle to explain the process to his daughters, who stood at his side.
Deace said their campaign presence did not justify the cartoon depiction, however.
The cartoon appeared to be a criticism of Cruz for using his children in the ad rather than a criticism of the children. But in the heat of partisan politics, politicians’ kids have found themselves the targets of direct personal attacks as well.
In 1992, When Chelsea Clinton was 12, Rush Limbaugh began talking about her on his television show while displaying a picture of a dog. Limbaugh claimed the incident was an accident. At a Republican fundraiser in 1998, Arizona Sen. John McCain joked, “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno.”
McCain’s own adult daughter, Meghan, later found herself the subject of personal attacks when she undertook a career as a blogger and pundit. In 2009, Laura Ingraham compared her to a “plus-sized model.”
“Put some extra clothes on,” Glenn Beck said of her in 2011. “Like, lots of extra clothes … has she thought about a burqa, just to be extra safe?” Meghan McCain — who called The Washington Post cartoon “disgusting” in a Fox News appearance — has said criticisms of her appearance led her to undergo therapy.
Last year, Republican Rep. Steve Fincher of Tennessee fired his communications director after she wrote a Facebook post aimed at Sasha and Malia Obama, then 13 and 16, respectively, criticizing their clothes and demeanor at the annual presidential turkey pardoning. “Try showing a little class,” wrote the staffer, who added, “Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.”
But aside from this week’s cartoon, the public reception of Cruz’s daughters has been positive. Said Deace, “I don’t think I’ve had people say to me, ‘Gee, I wish I’d see his kids less.’”
Powered by WPeMatico