If the past several weeks are any indication, when President Trump rallies the Republican base for Ted Cruz Monday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, Cruz will be little more than a prop for Trump. And that might not be good news for the junior Texas senator. Today is the first day of early voting in Texas, which has come to make up more than half of the turnout in Texas elections. So firing up Republicans to vote is important for Cruz in a contest with Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who has been drawing thousands of people to his rallies across the state. The U.S. Senate election in Texas this year is more about personalities than issues, with charismatic liberal O’Rourke running against first-term, conservative Senator Cruz, who does not always endear himself even to members of his own party.
Donald Trump has been a political hurricane who devastated establishment Republicans to win the party nomination in 2016, who upset Democrat Hillary Clinton that fall, and who has kept the world on edge as president. Disdained by many, Trump is loved by many others, including an amalgam of religious conservatives and Republicans who are fed up with Washington politics as usual. But he still needs allies—some might say supplicants—in Congress to get his agenda through. And when Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick set up the Cruz rescue mission with Trump, O’Rourke was running neck and neck with Cruz in the polls. Now, the surveys show the race has settled into the typical Republican/Democrat split in Texas that favors a Republican candidate.
That’s one reason why tonight’s speech is likely to be less about Cruz and more about Trump.
With the November 6 Election Day closing fast, the president has been traveling the country in an effort to stir Republican turnout for senators and members of Congress in tough or tight races. Most presidents’ political parties see setbacks in midterm elections, and this year is projected to be a tough one for Trump. These rallies may help Republican candidates, although Trump rallies are only tangentially about the candidate. Trump’s speeches are long and sometimes rambling talks about Donald Trump.
Just last week, Trump rightfully received criticism for a Montana speech praising Representative Greg Gianforte for body slamming a reporter last year. “Greg is smart. And by the way, never wrestle him. You understand that? Never. [Laughter.] Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of … He was my guy,” Trump said.
Gianforte may be Trump’s kind of guy, but he’s not Trump’s kind of speaker. At the rally, Gianforte got to utter nineteen words. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale spoke 505 words. Trump? His speech ran to 9,873 words in a transcript of self-serving praise and an attack on the caravan of Honduran refugees heading north, plus a revisiting of his 2016 election victory over Hillary Clinton. “Lock her up!” the crowd yelled. At a rally in Nevada, Trump spoke 7,499 words. Dean Heller, the Nevada senator locked in a tight race for re-election, got to speak 322 words. In Mesa, Arizona, Trump spoke 6,412 words; Republican candidate for Senate Martha McSally got 486.
Trump likely will have some kind words for Cruz, his former Republican presidential rival, despite having called him “Lyin’ Ted” during the 2016 campaign. But it already is obvious that Trump is moved by Cruz’s Democratic opponent. O’Rourke, of El Paso, has said he would vote to impeach Trump if it came up in the House, although he says he would reserve judgement if the impeachment came to trial while he was in the Senate.
O’Rourke’s candidacy has so inspired national Democrats, especially liberal Democrats, that he’s being mentioned more often as a possible challenger to Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Just last week, the liberal New Republic wrote, “Beto O’Rourke Isn’t Running for Senate Anymore. With defeat in Texas likely, the Democratic rising star eyes 2020.” O’Rourke has said that he does not foresee any run for the White House.
As Trump prepared for his trip to Texas, he praised Cruz on Twitter, but his attention quickly turned to criticism of O’Rourke—a theme that is likely to be repeated in Houston.
Ted Cruz has done so much for Texas, including massive cuts in taxes and regulations – which has brought Texas to the best jobs numbers in the history of the state. He watches carefully over your 2nd Amendment. O’Rourke would blow it all! Ted has long had my Strong Endorsement!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2018
Trump later went on the attack, going farther than Cruz has in portraying O’Rourke as out of step with conservative Texas. But it also is typical Trump hyperbole. O’Rourke has been a left-leaning Democrat, but also has been careful not to link himself with U.S. liberals like Senator Bernie Sanders, much less socialism in Venezuela.
Beto O’Rourke is a total lightweight compared to Ted Cruz, and he comes nowhere near representing the values and desires of the people of the Great State of Texas. He will never be allowed to turn Texas into Venezuela!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2018
Hundreds of people lined up overnight to get into the Toyota Center to see Trump tonight. It holds 18,000 people, but reportedly 100,000 tried to get tickets. So as you watch, keep in mind that on average, a political speech is delivered at about 150 words a minute. That means Cruz likely will get about three to five minutes on stage with Trump. Then decide who the rally is about.