I have no particular fondness for this subject and it brings me no pleasure to cover it. But as a truth-seeking journalist, I feel I must write what follows: Sen. Ted Cruz’s new beard looks great.
The Texas Republican first appeared in public with traces of facial hair just after Thanksgiving. Back then, the beard was just a shadowy, patchy mess that crept down his throat while wholly avoiding his chin. It looked a bit more professional in better lighting, but it reeked of desperation, too feeble and thin to do anything but serve as a physical manifestation of Cruz’s personality.
That all changed this week, when Cruz showed up in the Senate with a filled-out salt-and-pepper beard, giving his face a defined jawline and its first-ever hints of ruggedness and affability. The bloated, downy visage of a college debate team showoff is gone. A marginally less insufferable mug has arrived.
It takes courage to admit that people hate your face, and it’s both sad and heartening to see Cruz do so after years of taunts to that effect. Stephen Colbert has called the senator a “half-melted G.I. Joe.” The Kid Mero told him he looks like he eats mice. USA Today, the most boring and benign newspaper on the planet, once headlined a piece, “Why You May Not like Ted Cruz’s Face, According to Science.” Cruz seemed impervious to such criticism, what with his nonstop grandstanding and that unrelenting dumb smirk. But apparently he took the feedback to heart, because now the dumb smirk is partially obscured by a moustache.
Cruz’s new beard serves as a proof point for a few aesthetic and economic theories. First: Beards are contouring for men. Men who complain that women who wear a ton of makeup or don sunglasses in their Tinder profile photos are scamming men into thinking they’re hotter than they are had better never grow facial hair, because beards are capable of facial trickery no contouring palette could hope to accomplish. (Likewise, Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham who mock women like Rep. Nancy Pelosi for getting plastic surgery should be just as ruthless with men who cover up weak chins with beards.) Cruz’s new face also proves that the cultural mystique around beards and masculinity runs deep. He was sick of being regarded as a namby-pamby in a state with the country’s biggest hard-on for machismo, but he looked like an absolute idiot every time he tried to hold a gun. With his beard, he looks ever so slightly less like someone whose idea of athleisure is pleated khakis.
The Cruz beard is also a good argument for free-market economics. When he was the only viable product on offer for Senate voters in Texas, he could get by with his spongy, fully-exposed face. Then, some competition entered the marketplace: a scruffy, sociable former rocker who once looked extremely hot in a ponytail and goatee. Cruz was so thrown for a loop by Beto O’Rourke, he studied photos of the guy in his downtime, wondering how he could imitate or improve upon the innovative (read: sexy) product O’Rourke was offering voters. When Cruz eked out a victory in an unexpectedly close race, he knew he’d have to give his consumers something better to keep their business. Hence, the beard.
So far, conservatives are using Cruz’s facial hair as an excuse to tease him (the Washington Examiner said he’d grown a “beard,” in scare quotes) and make jokes about trans people (“We should accept that Cruz identifies as someone who can grow a beard and not judge him, as those are the rules now according to social media,” read a piece on RedState). It remains to be seen whether Texas voters will respond to the new, rustic Cruz with greater interest, or if they’ll be angry with their senator for trying to mask his natural tendency to irritate and repulse. Unfortunately, he just got elected to a six-year term, so we won’t get hard data for some time—and there’s no guarantee he’ll keep the beard. Maybe by 2024, a Cruz moustache will be up for re-election instead.