TEXAS — He won’t say if he’s running for Texas governor, nor will he come out firmly on either side of the state’s many hot button political issues. But in an interview on The New York Times’ Sway podcast with opinion columnist Kara Swisher, Matthew McConaughey talks more seriously about politics in the State of Texas than he has in previous interviews.
The Oscar-winning actor and native Texan in the 40-minute episode offered hints about where he stood on mask mandates, Texas’ new abortion ban law and the Democrats’ fight against voting restrictions. He also offered his brief thoughts on Beto O’Rourke, his potential Democrat opponent should either officially declare a challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022.
McConaughey has said in the past that he was “measuring” whether he would enter the race.
Swisher pressed him on this. “I’m sorry, what’s ‘measuring’ mean? What are you measuring?”
McConaughey, who described himself to Swisher as a “statesman, philosopher, folk-singing poet,” responded with his usual spin by trying to turn a yes or no question into a philosophical discussion instead.
“Measuring. Measuring is a great word, isn’t it?” he said.
Swisher pushed on. “Yes, but it doesn’t mean anything.”
What McConaughey said he didn’t want to do was go into politics, run for governor and “just put on a bunch of Band-Aids in four years, and walk out, and they rip ‘em off when you’re gone,” he said.
No, he’s not doing any internal polls about a potential run, he said. Nor is he forming any exploratory committees except a “committee with me,” he said. But he does have mentors and people he’s talking to, the names of which he would keep to himself, he said.
Where exactly the former rom-com movie star stands on issues, let alone what party he belongs to, has been a big question for pundits and voters alike.
McConaughey said his centrist position was not necessarily his policy platform, but more of a “common sense, relational position with respect to the left and right.”
“Taking sides on a political issue right now, to me, precedes the discussion of something larger and much more important,” McConaughey said. “The definition is, what the hell is politics? ... before we start saying, hey, this is where I stand, and this is where I stand, which creates, already, a divide where some of you— 50% of the people are going to come at you, let’s answer these other questions about purpose of democracy, right?”
The big question for him when it came to politics was in fact, not about him, but what to do about what he has in the past called a “broken business.”
“This friend of mine, who’s a very smart Southern boy goes, ‘yeah, you know, about that middle-of-the-road stuff, ain’t nothing in the middle of the road but yellow lines and armadillos,” he said. “And I was like, hey, bud, I’m over here in the middle of the road right now. I’m walking these yellow lines, and the armadillos are running free. You know why? Because the left and right traffic is so far to the edge, their tires are not even on the pavement,” McConaughey said.
Swisher pushed McConaughey on several of the biggest political headlines to come out of Texas this summer, as the Republican-led government passed some of the most conservative laws on abortion and election reform in the country, while at the same time, Abbott was criticized for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On mask mandates, McConaughey said he had come out in support of it early on.
“Look, Texas all over— I get it. No one likes being told what to do. We are all more afraid of the word 'mandate' than we were the damn mask,” he said. “And I think our pride trumped and stamped down our honor there. I would have said, mandate masks, and I said it way back when, in the very beginning.”
On the recently passed abortion law that bans the procedure after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at six weeks, McConaughey skirted around saying he was against the bill with language that sounded like, well, he was against the bill.
“I’m not going to come out and tell you right now on this show, here’s where I stand on abortion,” he said. “But this latest move by Texas? It’s a little bit of— feels like a back-to-front sort of Roe v. Wade loophole that they’re trying to get into. It’s a— feels a little juvenile in its implementation to me.”
The law offers no exceptions for rape and incest, which McConaughey said he had a problem with, as well as the fact that the procedure could not be performed after six weeks.
“If you’re saying that your discussion of abortion is even on the table to consider, six weeks does not really make that an honest consideration,” he said.
On the Republican-led election reform bill, McConaughey criticized GOP lawmakers for jumping on a national bandwagon of questioning elections and voting laws after a contentious 2020 election.
“When we did that, we stepped out on a national scale and tried to say, our brand is Republican,” McConaughey said. “No, no, that’s the party that’s in office right now. Our brand is independence. And we kind of, in doing that, I think, belittled ourselves, our own identity of independence.”
A September poll conducted by the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler showed McConaughey with a nine-point lead in a theoretical matchup against Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking a third term in 2022.
Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat widely believed to be close to announcing his challenge against Abbott, was behind the Texas governor 37% to 42% in a theoretical matchup.
Swisher interviewed O’Rourke in late September, asking the former U.S. congressman if he could be the one to turn Texas blue. O’Rourke narrowly lost a 2018 race to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, giving a huge boost of hope and momentum to the Democratic party for future elections.
In that interview, O’Rourke described the Republican control of state government in Texas as “chaotic. It’s inspiring vigilantism. And it is awful for the people of this state.”
So what is he doing about it? Would he challenge Abbott in 2022? Swisher asked.
Like McConaughey, O’Rourke wouldn’t confirm or deny but said he was thinking about it.
Swisher, who made a name for herself in journalism for her in-depth reporting on the tech industry, responded with the same exasperation of many Texas Democrats who are tired of waiting for a candidate to get behind in the Texas governor’s race.
“I’m not a political reporter, so I can’t play games with you here, and being coy and what it is. It’s exhausting to me, that kind of thing,” she said.
Then she asked O’Rourke about his thoughts on a possible McConaughey run and what he thought about the latest poll numbers showing the actor winning against Abbott and the El Paso politician losing in the same theoretical race against the current Texas governor.
O’Rourke said he didn’t know anything concrete about McConaughey’s political ambitions but that he liked and admired McConaughey and his commitment to helping Texans, even if he didn’t quite understand where the actor stood on the issues.
When asked about O’Rourke’s comments, McConaughey was equally as gracious, albeit vague, about his political views on the potential Democratic candidate.
“He called me a good man. I can say he’s a good man,” he said. “Maybe he believes in what he’s selling, and his heart is in the right place, and he’s got the right kind of compassion that a liberal-sided politician needs, and is necessary.”