In late September an advertisement began running across television stations in Texas mocking Senator Ted Cruz's campaign slogan, "Tough as Texas." In the ad, former Vice correspondent Trace Crutchfield derides Cruz's slogan for being reminiscent of overcooked steak. Crutchfield also calls the senator a "political toadie" of Donald Trump, criticizing him for failing to defend his wife when the president attacked her appearance and saying, "Now if that's Texas, I'll kiss your ass"—all the while grilling a steak to char.
The commercial, timed to run ahead of debates between Cruz and his Democratic challenger, Beto O'Rourke, was the second such effort by IXNAY PAC, a new political action committee that promises to "raise hell from sea to shining sea" to get Trump and his allies out of office. IXNAY's first ad features Crutchfield insulting the intelligence of both Cruz and the president before exclaiming, "Let's mess with Texas elections, together!"
IXNAY was founded by Crutchfield and his partners earlier this year. It intends to unseat Trump and his political supporters by humorously highlighting their flaws and emphatically encouraging voter turnout. Besides running ads on TV, radio, and the Internet, IXNAY is also taking more DIY approaches to messaging, selling T-shirts, buttons, and posters, and even wheat-pasting in public areas. Its hope is to draw those repelled by electoral politics into the voting booth by speaking to them in a language that they understand.
Pacific Standard spoke with Crutchfield, who describes himself as IXNAY's "muckracker-in-chief," about the group's mission and tactics, as well as the response thus far to their bizarre (yet effective) campaigns.
What was the genesis of IXNAY PAC? In a video introducing it, you mention that "Super PACs seem like a bad thing ... until you realize that you can start one too!"
When Donald Trump was elected, we realized that we were in a whole new paradigm. We've all lived through presidents that we've disliked, but until now, we've never seen an American president who actively demonstrates that he is acting only in his own self-interest. We've been lucky that the crises that have erupted in his administration have been entirely of his own making because the first time that he has to wrangle with something that comes out of the blue—a "black swan" event—we're all going to be in a lot of trouble.
So, recognizing that this is a uniquely terrible situation and wanting to one day be able to tell our grandchildren that we did something other than nothing about it, we tried to figure out what we could do. Protesting is important, cell phone activism is digitally cathartic, but the problem is that Trump and his allies don't ever personally come out into the streets to take their lumps. Since they rarely venture into our world, we decided to invade theirs and filed with the FEC to form a Super PAC, allowing us to use the same tools they used to gain power against them.
Where are you getting your funding from and how are you spending it?
The major difference between IXNAY PAC and most other Super PACs is that we weren't started by a wealthy individual or corporation to tilt an election in a way that helps them make more money. We're old-school DIY punks who've started this with no money, just sweat equity, mischievous minds, and faith that like-minded folks will see what we're doing and will support us. We're making stone soup here, and already we've seen people start to pitch in. Some have offered up their skills and their networks, others help out by buying our shirts and pins, and people we've never met kick in cash money that they worked for. We're not talking a lot of money by comparison to the dollar amounts you hear bandied about in the context of political fundraising, but it's a lot of money for normal people who are also trying to figure out what in the world they can do to bring this long national nightmare to an end—and that means a lot to us.
Right now, those donations are being used hand-to-mouth to pay to get our mid-terms ads in front of Texas voters. Every $5 we get is another 200 people who will see our videos. We're rolling out a dozen videos in the weeks ahead, attempting to convince, coerce, and cajole Texans into getting registered to vote, getting off their asses and actually voting, and voting to erode Donald Trump's power base by one Ted Cruz.
IXNAY PAC's sole mission is to "get Donald Trump and his allies out of American politics." How do you intend to do this? In practice, how does this differ from supporting the Democratic Party and its candidates?
We're not ideologues, partisans, or policy wonks. Our mission is driven by the fact that Donald Trump is a uniquely terrible president and think that the less power he has to interfere in lives of Americans and the fate of this country as a whole, the better off we'll be. So when Donald Trump is out of office and our country can go back to its baseline normal-crazy rather than batshit-we-might-actually-die-crazy, we'll hang the "Mission Accomplished" banner up and go back to what we were doing before.
Now, getting a sitting president and his cronies out of office is a formidable challenge, to say the least. Without giving away too much about our strategy and tactics, let's just say that we're mixing a sensibility honed in punk rock and investigative journalism together with data science and good old-fashioned intuition to pull every legal—and ethical—lever available to bring this embarrassing and dangerous period of American history to a close. That might mean working to replace Trump cronies with Democrats, but it also might mean creating conditions that would encourage independent-minded conservative politicians to, well ... be a bit more independent and break free of the Donald's grip.
Why focus on the race between Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke?
We chose Ted Cruz's Senate campaign as our initial IXNAY because of the bizarre relationship he has with Trump, but also because Beto seems a superior candidate in every way. And instead of simply saying "Ted is the devil" and "Beto is a saint," we wanted to have a little fun with the the whole thing. We hope it comes across as somewhat less than virulent partisanship, which most of us are sick of.
What does IXNAY PAC find bizarre about Cruz's relationship with Trump?
We fully appreciate that the whole point of political parties is to win elections. To that end, the Republican Party has shown an incredible willingness to suck it up, to win at any cost, to sacrifice its own purported values in order to gain or retain power. Traditionally, however, after divvying up the spoils, Republicans go back to serving their constituents and tending to their political legacies. But not Ted. For some reason, and in spite of Donald Trump's beyond-the-pale attacks on him and his record, Ted Cruz had become the president's lap dog. He inexplicably wrote a glowing profile of Trump for Time magazine and he votes with him 90 percent of the time. He's a sycophant. We don't need sycophants in positions of power. Of course, Beto may not be perfect, but he's his own man.
What's been the response to IXNAY PAC and its efforts thus far? You've been explicitly targeting those wary of electoral politics, saying things like, "While you may have no interest in fucking with politics, politicians are interested in fucking with you." Has that message and IXNAY's DIY tactics and aesthetics—like relying on T-shirts, buttons, and wheat-pastings whose design is reminiscent of a street-wear brand—been winning converts?
The response has been pretty incredible considering we just dropped that introduction video over the transom little more than a week ago. Dozens of donations, plus the sales of shirts and paraphernalia, have begun to float us. In fact, after shooting our initial spots in Texas, we actually put IXNAY posters up in public places. The response, while not wholly expected, was tremendous, so much so that we were struggling a bit at first to meet demand for both the Cruz and Trump posters—a sign we take to mean that IXNAY has the ability to transcend regional, party, and even class affiliations across America. So yeah, if we have to win converts one citizen at time, that's what we aim to do.
Most Americans are locked into their political profiles and immune to traditional messaging, so we wanted to bring a touch of humor to the "sky is falling" party—just some chuckles to jump-start the conversation because people learn more when they're smiling, after all. Our duty is to encourage people, especially those on the margins, to vote for their own interests.
You mention wanting people to vote in their own interests. What would this look like, and why isn't it already happening?
Voting in your own best interest is the idea that people are able to accurately assess the policies and the policy impact being put forward by our candidates, as well as those candidates' commitment to public service and their commitment to our system of liberal democracy. Unfortunately, because of the deep political divides in our country, many Americans select their politicians not based on the quality of ideas or merit or experience of their candidates, but on partisan identity, which in the United States has come to function something like a tribal identity. This means that people choose the policies they support based on their partisan political leader's position, irrespective of how the policies would truly affect them. Classic examples are conservative opposition to universal health care or supporting upward transfers of wealth through the tax "cuts." Another example is climate change denial, which is beginning to, and will continue to, have a disproportionate impact on the poor of all races in the United States.
Partisanship is a powerful motivator, and if we want people to make political decisions as informed citizens, we need to reduce the sway that political parties have on our citizen's assessments of policy and governance. A simple step people can take is to educate themselves: Use multiple sources of information, question their politicians, have conversations with people who disagree, and be willing to break with your own "group."
What's next for IXNAY PAC?
Our focus up until the mid-terms is on un-electing Ted Cruz. To that end, we have about a dozen commercials in the can, an ad called "Bite the Bullet" set to run on conservative talk radio, and an Instagram series called "Voting Is Not a Crime" that's in development. Plus, of course, planning Ted Cruz's retirement party. After that, we begin working full tilt boogie on bringing about the end of Donald Trump's political life—or something like that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.