You might think of Tim Kaine as a fairly vanilla figure in national politics. He has bushy eyebrows, an “aw shucks” grin, and plenty of red and blue ties. He is non-threatening and mild-mannered with hobbies like “reading or jamming on the harmonica.” He was dubbed “America’s stepdad” during the 2016 election. You might imagine Tom Hanks playing him in an inevitable Hillary Clinton biopic.
But there’s another side to Tim Kaine, one that counters his cultivated persona, and this town ain’t big enough for the two of ’em.
Or at least that’s the story the senator’s mask told on Tuesday. Kaine showed up to a Senate hearing on the pandemic response with his metaphorical guns drawn, while following CDC guidelines about face-covering.
Instead of the staid surgical mask seen on colleagues Susan Collins or the patterned cloth versions worn by Chris Murphy and Richard Burr, Kaine opted for a burnt umber bandana.
It left him looking like a dystopian hero or renegade cowboy according to Twitter jokes. As he shot off questions to Dr. Anthony Fauci about contact tracing, Kaine completely rebranded the face mask. The senator Tennessee waltzed right into chambers and schooled us all in the art of rebellious pandemic fashion.
After all, what do Boomer men of Kaine’s age, especially protestors who might view masks as a sign of weakness, love more than outlaw country and western heroes? The senator channeled both archetypes and kept his (potentially) germ-y mouth covered at the same time. A cavalry officer and a gentleman, if you will.
A Kaine spokesperson told The Daily Beast that Kaine has worn the bandana for years while hiking. He thinks he got it at outdoor activities store REI but isn’t positive.
This is not Kaine’s first rodeo with nailing face masks. As Buzzfeed News reporter Ryan Broderick pointed out, he has quietly been doing it all this time. If Kaine played an aging rancher on an AMC Networks cable series, he would already be on season four.
It’s fascinating to see just how much one accessory can completely alter Kaine’s personality. Sans face mask, he’s got a round, avuncular smile that makes him appear friendly—just the man you would want to see pull over if your car broke down.
But with the simple addition of a bandana, he looks like he’s on his way to rob you. If you saw him coming over, you would roll up your window and pray for a miracle.
The Daily Beast reached out to Kaine’s office for comment on the bandana. “We’ll try to get you an answer after the hearing!” his press secretary responded. This post will be updated if we hear back, but Kaine may have already ridden off into the sunset by then.