When Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and his Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, face off in their first debate Friday, watch as two long-winded politicians struggle for brevity. This past weekend, a reporter asked Cruz a simple question about Hurricane Harvey. His answer lasted 3 minutes, 57 seconds—which is forever on television. O’Rourke recently used 3 minutes, 38 seconds to give his defense of National Football League players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence against blacks. The abridged version of the candidates of verbosity will be the time limits set by the debate moderators. Expect the overtime buzzer to be sounding.
Cruz will have a bit of an advantage, because CNN hosted him in a series of debates with independent Bernie Sanders in 2017. And watch as Cruz tries to stamp O’Rourke as a Sanders-style liberal out of touch with mainstream Texans. A preview of what that might look like:
Although some of his issues are similar to Sanders’s—such as a desire for universal health care—O’Rourke has tried to run above partisanship and attacks on Cruz, making the case that the election is about values, all the while firing up his Democratic base by opposing issues pushed by President Trump. O’Rourke has said he would vote to impeach Trump if it came up in the House while he is serving, but he has reserved judgment on what he would do if the case came to him in the Senate.
Most political debates are really just dueling pep rallies, and, in the case of this first debate for Cruz and O’Rourke at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the campaigns are controlling access to the auditorium. Beyond the respective cheering sections will be the reporters and political junkies who will watch closely for the NASCAR pileup, such as when former Governor Rick Perry, in a presidential debate, had to name the three federal agencies he wanted to abolish and could only remember two. Oops. And despite the Friday night time-frame, in which the candidates are competing against high school football, expect Texas voters who are only modestly interested in politics to tune into their local Nexstar television station at 6 p.m. on Friday for what is likely to become a lively issues discussion.
At least that is what Cruz says he is hoping for:
A clear difference in terms of our records and in terms of our vision for the state of Texas. Much of the press coverage of this campaign has focused on rainbows and puppy dogs, has focused on puff pieces from the media that don’t address the actual substance of the race. There is no race in the country with two candidates who have a starker difference in terms of our records and in terms of what we’re fighting for.
When I was elected to the Senate six years ago I told the people of Texas I’d fight every day for lower taxes lower regulations more jobs more opportunity that I’d fight to secure the border and to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That’s what the overwhelming majority of Texans want and that is markedly different from Congressman O’Rourke’s record so I look forward to a discussion.”
I asked O’Rourke’s campaign for a few minutes with the candidate to get his preview of the debate, but heard nothing back. Before the debate tomorrow, may I suggest you take a couple of minutes on the web sites of O’Rourke and Cruz to get a feel for where they are on the issues?