The XX Factor

Ted Cruz vs. Donald Trump: Who Wins the Creepy-Dad Caucus?

There’s a camera here, and loving dad Ted Cruz wants to kiss his daughter.


Ted Cruz may have won a mandate from Iowa caucusgoers in a decisive victory over Donald Trump, but his detractors are feeling seen by Cruz’s own daughter this morning. In a BBC video that surfaced this weekend, a squirming 7-year-old Caroline rebuffs her father’s repeated attempts at strategic affection, yelling “Ow, ow, ow, ow!” as he insists on going in for a kiss goodbye.

The best part of the clip is right at the start, when Caroline Cruz extends her arm to flick a finger directly in her father’s face at the mere suggestion of an impending hug. This approximates the general vibe of many residents of states with upcoming primaries, in whom Cruz evokes a case of the heebie-jeebies.

Cruz pretends it’s just a little act his daughter puts on when she actually wants to be embraced in his arms: “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey hey hey,” he implores. He reaches out to touch her, she slaps his hands away, and he acts like it’s a game, slapping hers back. He mimics familiarity with a tiny roar right against her unwilling cheek, then makes one last giant attempt at a kiss for the sake of the camera. She dodges it with practiced finesse, the look of unadulterated disgust steady on her face, refusing to make eye contact with the candidate. Gleeful Cruz-haters on social media have likened the moment to an iconic scene from Alien:

Kids on the campaign trail have it rough—they’re away from home, their parents are busy all the time, and, as in Caroline’s case, they end up getting carried from bleak Iowa town to bleak Iowa town by a guy in a football jersey. “Yeah, they’re goin’ with me,” the jersey guy in this video says of Caroline. “We’re takin’ her.” Clutching her iPad, Caroline looks tired, frustrated, and ready to be done with this whole campaign nonsense. No one could blame her for rejecting an on-camera hug from the dad who’s been gone stumping for the better part of the past year.

But Cruz persists, and he knows how bad it looks. Consider the look of humiliation and panic on Cruz’s face when he glances at the camera, knowing it caught the whole thing—this is the look of a guy who’s so bent on world domination, he’ll do anything to try and force a loving family moment, even if it means ignoring his daughter’s very clear signals that she doesn’t want to be touched.

Voters expect a certain amount of publicity-ready, choreographed family time during a political campaign. The outtakes from Cruz’s family promo video, which contained a lot of coaching and uneasy silences, were embarrassing, but not surprising. Forcing a child to kiss and hug when she feels uncomfortable or isn’t in the mood to be touched, however, is no way to raise a child with a healthy set of boundaries and agency over her own body. A child pressured to kiss in front of the camera is a child used as a pawn.

Luckily for Cruz, Trump’s already got the creepy-dad title in the bag. As if Trump’s implication that he’d have sex with his daughter wasn’t nauseating enough, we now have this image of the candidate and an adolescent Ivanka to surgically excise from our brains: