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Beto O’Rourke Ripped Ted Cruz 10 New Assh*les And It Was Glorious

Rising progressive star Beto O’Rourke and charisma-less smear Ted Cruz faced off in their first debate of the campaign season last night at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and they gave Texas voters a stark choice in the upcoming Senate election. With polls in the closely watched race tightening, the two men clashed on immigration, police brutality, racial justice, healthcare and more. They also gave voters an insight into what kind of campaigns the two men are running.

Cruz’s strategy is to paint O’Rourke as a wild-eyed socialist out of step with the state he wants to represent. It’s a familiar play: paint your opponent as extreme and stoke the fears of your base so they turn out and vote against them. O’Rourke’s strategy is to try to transcend partisan rancor while unabashedly sticking to the progressive principles that have inspired his fervent following. This brand of liberal “conviction politics” is what sets O’Rourke’s Senate bid apart from the cookie cutter campaigns we’re used to seeing, but it’s especially uncommon in a ruby red state like Texas.

Cruz tried to shoehorn references to every right-wing bogeyman he could, claiming O’Rourke was to the left of Nancy Pelosi (drink!), Bernie Sanders (drink!), and Elizabeth Warren (drink!). “We’re seeing nationally, socialists like Bernie Sanders, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [drink!] and, indeed, Congressman Beto O’Rourke advocating for those same policies,” Cruz said. He also namechecked Hillary Clinton (drink!), saying O’Rourke would like Supreme Court Justices even more to the left than ones she would’ve appointed. (It’s worth pointing out that Ted Cruz said if Clinton won the election he would try to keep Scalia’s vacated Supreme Court seat open for her entire term.)

O’Rourke called Cruz out for his disingenuous fear-mongering about “Texas values” and slammed him for being an absentee senator. “Only one of us has been to each county in Texas and would have an idea of what Texas values and interests are,” O’Rourke said. “Within months of being sworn to service, your Senator Ted Cruz was not in Texas. He was in Iowa. He visited every single one of the 99 counties of Iowa.”

O’Rourke also confronted Cruz for lying about statements the Democrat made in support of NFL players who were kneeling to protest racial injustice. Cruz claimed O’Rourke said there was nothing more American than kneeling for the national anthem (a claim that’s laughable on its face but is sure to find purchase among the dead-eyed culture warriors). In reality, O’Rourke said there’s nothing more American than peacefully standing up (or taking a knee) for your rights.

Speaking of “Lyin’ Ted,” the debate moderators asked Cruz directly about his humiliating loss of whatever dignity he had left for becoming a Donald Trump’s biggest cheerleader after Trump viciously insulted his wife and accused his father of involvement in the JFK assassination during the 2016 primaries. “After the election in 2016, I faced a choice,” Cruz said. “I made a conscious choice to do the job I was elected to do, which was to represent 28 million Texans.”

It’s quite a turnaround for Cruz, who refused to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention and once gave a fiery speech denouncing the attacks and refusing to be Trump’s lapdog.

“That pledge [to support the Republican nominee] was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I’m going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father,” Cruz said at the time. Just a couple years later he wrote a fawning love letter to Trump in TIME magazine.

O’Rourke, for his part, didn’t pile on the senator for his craven opportunism and instead pivoted to attacking Cruz for failing to stand up for the rule of law. “If the president attacks you personally, your wife, your father, how you respond is your business. But when the president attacks our institutions—this country—allows a foreign power to invade our democracy, that is our business.”

Racial justice (or injustice) was a recurring theme in the debate, highlighted by the two candidates’ vastly different responses to the tragic shooting of an African-American Dallas man in his home by a white police officer who claims she thought she was entering her own apartment. O’Rourke called for the officer to be fired and Cruz attacked his opponent for being too quick to pass judgment and “siding against the police.” (I don’t know about you, but a police officer who can’t crack the case of which apartment she lives doesn’t seem like someone you want on the force.)

The closing question also provided a telling contrast between the two. Prompted by moderators to say one nice thing about the other, O’Rourke said he admired Cruz’s work ethic and how he’s sacrificed for the things he believes in. “I know how hard he works,” O’Rourke said. “I have no question that Senator Cruz wants to do the best for America.”

But when it was Cruz’s turn he couldn’t resist getting in one last dig at O’Rourke. “O’Rourke is passionate, energetic — He believes in what he is fighting for,” Cruz said. “Bernie Sanders believes in what he is fighting for. He believes in socialism. I think when he is fighting for doesn’t work, but I think you are sincere like Bernie, you believe in expanding government and higher taxes.”

“True to form,” O’Rourke replied.

Polls so far have shown the Texas Senate race is close and the non-partisan Cook Political Report recently moved the race from the “Lean Republican” column to the “Toss-Up” column. Cruz’s defeat would be a stunning upset, helping Democrats in their longshot bid to retake control of the Senate for the first time in eight years.

The two men will debate again on September 30th in Houston and October 16th in San Antonio.

h/t: Texas Tribune