I had the privilege of being in the audience on Monday evening for the Ted Cruz – David Dewhurst debate in their epic runoff battle to be the Republican nominee for the US Senate seat being vacated by a true giant, the Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchinson.
Some prelminaries: I was most surprised by the fact that there were few elected officials and/or other candidates present in the room. There was Mike Wolfe, Mike Sullivan, and Toni Lawrence. As expected, the crowd was predominantly Anglo, with a small smattering of Latinos and African-Americans. I was very impressed with the fact that there were a lot of young people present. As to where the hearts of the voters in that room belonged to, I would say it was majority Ted Cruz. After all, we were in a Tea Party hall, not Downtown Houston.
You could tell which candidate the audience preferred by how loud and demonstrative they were as the candidates came upon the stage. Lt. Governor Dewhurst had some applause, but it was fairly quiet and reserved. Ted Cruz got the crowd up on their feet, for a sustained period of time.
There were opening statements, closing statements, and, in between, twelve questions, with no scheduled rebuttal. This was somewhat disappointing as I would have preferred to see these battle-scarred candidates fight out their differences directly between each other. This would have allowed the audience both at home and out in TV land to get a clearer picture of the candidates and where they stand as opposed to the truly negative advertising run by both campaigns.
Ted stated that “elections are not about politicians, or the candidates, but the people.” That “there are too many politicians in washington who think we work for them, not the other way around.” Very populist message. It reminded me of Ross Perot from 1992 and 1996 and was effective. David gave a stronger opening. He said that, “the freedoms we have been grated in our constiution have been slipping from our other fingers.” He was worried that his children and others would not have the same opportunities to excel and succeeed as he did.
The first question concerned, not surprisingly, Obamacare. David called for its repeal, not replacement, because it does not improve health outcomes. Ted said the court’s decision was a “tragic day for liberty” without specifying. I thought Ted overreached by saying that David supported European socialism.
On the next question – regarding President Obama’s arguable expansion of presidential power with respect to health care, marriage equality, and immigration, the debate points became clearer. Ted said he had spent his lifetime “fighting to defend the constitution,” which the President held in contempt. He got in a funny line that there were “more czars in the White House than in Russia.” Great line, but didn’t really explain what he could do to stop it, if it could or, in fact, ought to be stopped. David hit a home run by emphasizing, as he would time and time again, the difference between a talker and a doer. This clear contrast was repeated throughout the night, and it was effective.
On how to revive the space program, domestic energy production, and make Texas more business friendly, they were generally not responsive. David did not have a chance to adress space, whereas Ted said that space was vital for the defense of our national security. An interesting proposition, seeing that America’s space program is generally civilian and not military.
On promises to represent Texas (alleged) conservative values, the candidates stayed focused on generalities here, with David reminding voters of his years as Lieutenant Governor and Land Commissioner, to “take a look at his footprints in the sand.” Ted would say that was wet sand that was not firm.
On illegal immigration, both candidates damaged the Republican brand in Texas with Latino voters for years to come. Dewhurst recognized the serious of the immigration issue, seeking to triple the size of border patrol. Absolutely against any form of amnesty, which, to me, makes no sense because you still have people toiling here in Texas for no respect and limited incomes. He seems to prefer them to remain in the shadows then come out into the sunjlight. Ted wanted fences, walls, helicopters, technology – a police state essentially. Not much liberty there. Wanted an end to magnets for immigration, end sanctuary citieis, no in state tutition for immigrant children, no amnesty, and guest workers. When saying that Dewhurst was more liberal than Obama on this issue, somebody cried out from the audience, “Liar!”
Best question of the night – why are Ted and david fighting so much? Ted said he was only focused on his record. Ted asked rhetorically whether David stood by maligning his patriotism. Dewhurst responded by saying that superpacs for Cruz had been attacking Dewhurst since day one. Further, he said that Ted ought to be known by the people he chose to represent – the Chiense, felons, etc. This drew a very strong negative response from the Pro-Cruz audience.
On both men having young daughters, they were asked what in their backgrounds would let them be able to deal with wht normal Texans have to deal with. Both responded well by talking about their biography. David emphasized that he had grown up poor, that his father had been killed when he was three, and that his mother worked two jobs. Ted reminded voters that his mother was an Irish/Italina computer programmer for Shell in the fifties and that his Dad was Cuban. That his parents loved him and sacrificed for him. He said parents should live their lives so that kids could have respect. Again, Ted emphasized (wrongly in my opinion) that David had maligned his character and patriotism and that the campaign was in the gutter. This type of response told me that Ted was rattled by the Lt. Governor’s successful ads attacking Ted.
On the one piece of legislation other than Obamacare repeal that they would author/pass in their first term, both candidates were suprisingly specific and more effective than they had been all evening long. Ted wanted to dramatically reduce the power and scope of the federal government by passing a strong balanced budget amendment, require every tax increase to be by a supermajority and limit federal spending as a percentage of GDP. David argued that there were $40 trillion in unfuded obligtions for social security, medicare, and medicaid. He would seek a comprehensive budget reform bill as opposed to a tax bill. He also specified a cap of spending at 18% of GDP.
Regarding public health care, you could see the candidates straining to get elderly voters, and this was not effective. Their pandering did not hold up to their ideological convictions. David wanted medicare and medicaid reformed to make healthcare outcomes better while saving billions of dollars. David noted, quite rightly, that people do, in fact, depend on public health care, emphasizing that “a promise is a promise.”
Here is where Ted lost the boat in this debate. This teavangelical conservative stated that medicaid, medicare, and social security were “fundamental bulwarks of society.” Seems strange as he want to dramatically reduce the power, size, and scope of the federal government. His small-sized reforms were sensible (allow patients to buy insurance across state lines, expand health savings accounts, delink health insurance from employment) but strange in context. He said that you should not lose health insurance if you lose your job. I agree. But the real matter should be you should have quality health care, not merely insurance. There is a difference, and here, Ted could not see the forest for the trees.
Not a surprise that both were strong second amendment supporters and did nothing to distinguish themselves on this issue.
On how to save medicare, medicaid, and social security, David stumbled while Ted put forth idea (even if IMHO poor ones). David emphasized that you have to keep the promises we have made for people at or near sixty-five, but that these programs need to be reformed. He emphasized that he worked on budgets as Lt. governor, cutting $14 billion out of the Texas budget last session (which I would not be proud of, but, horses for courses). Ted said there should be no changes for these programs for those at or near reitreement. He would seek to gradually increase the retirement age, change the rate of growth of benefits to merely mtch inflation, and let younger workers hold on to their own individual retirements. The problem with these answers chiefly was that it called for pandering, not seriously solving the healthcare and retirement crises looming for many American families later this century.
The final question concerned the castle doctrine (a response to George Zimmerman), and there were no differences here.
Ted’s closing started off strong but sputtered in the end. He declared that the nation was “in danger and in crisis.” That no one was is “big enough to bail out America” and that “career politicians in both parties have gotten us into this mess,” an obvious swipe at the Lt. Governor. Having made the setup, he then weirdly focused on sovreignty, the world court, and the UN. Not a strong close at all.
David’s closing reemphasize the central thrust of his campaign, stating that the key issue was “who do you think has the character, values, and judgment to be the next Senator” for Texas regarding questions of war, issues of the budget, and Obamacare. He stated that he had a record that ‘everyone can see,” and that he was proud of that record, stating tht Texas was the most conservative, pro-jobs, pro-business, pro-life state in the nation. David emphasized the need for judgment, for being able to lead, for bringing people together in these tough times. You may not agree with everything David advocated for in this debate (and I did not), but he focused on being a conservative while understanding the need for consensus in solving our problems. That’s what business people do. Ted, as a lifetime lawyer, does not quite fit that mold. He will argue for his cause to the death, even if may be to the ultimate detriment of his nation, his state, and his causes.
Overall, I felt David one this debate hands down, despite stuttering here and there. I expect David will be the Republican nominee as of July 31, 2012.