The on again off again negotiations over a debate schedule suitable for both the Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke campaigns looks like they’re on again. O’Rourke backed out of the first debate on the calendar slated for tomorrow citing a demand for more input into the decision-making process.
It’s all about control, which is nothing new in politics. The Cruz campaign offered up five debate dates – all on Friday nights – and the O’Rourke campaign accepted. Additionally, O’Rourke wanted a sixth site named, which was his hometown of El Paso. One debate would be in partnership with Univision.
The first debate, scheduled for Friday in Dallas, was called off Monday by O’Rourke. He claims the Cruz campaign is calling all the shots and he wants more collaboration with his campaign.
O’Rourke said Monday that Cruz’s campaign has “attempted to dictate” different aspects of the debate schedule, such as the time, the moderators and which subjects the candidates could speak about.
“We’re working through those differences, and we’re trying to introduce more of a collaborative style to the negotiations than he may be used to,” O’Rourke said during the forum. “And so we’re confident that out of that, we’re going to come to something good.”
The sudden withdrawal was a surprise, given it was O’Rourke, the challenger, who wanted numerous debates with Cruz in the first place. By Tuesday, both Cruz and O’Rourke confirmed that negotiations are back on and both candidates voiced optimism that debate conditions would be worked out.
“Both sides are talking,” O’Rourke said after an event in Austin on Tuesday. “I’m confident we’ll work something out. I’m pretty confident we’re going to see debates.”
“He has had his staff members emailing back and forth with my campaign,” Cruz said. “They may agree to a couple of debates. They’re going back and forth about dates and this and that.”
There are risks for both in debating. Cruz risks allowing O’Rourke a greater platform to increase his recognition. O’Rourke is a fresh face for most Texans outside of the district he represents in El Paso in the U.S. House of Representatives. Enthusiasm for his campaign has been growing yet Cruz is still much more well-known state-wide.
O’Rourke has not debated on television for a state-wide audience, let alone a national audience. With five debates scheduled in six weeks, Cruz would have the advantage given that debating is his superpower. Cruz has been honing his debating skills since middle school and has argued (and won) cases before the Supreme Court of the United States.
The debates should be interesting, given the latest opinion being voiced that the Cruz campaign should go negative against O’Rourke in order to stop his current momentum. So far, the Cruz campaign hasn’t dwelled on some parts of O’Rourke’s past that could influence Texas voters, especially any dissatisfied Republican voters who may be thinking of voting for O’Rourke. Like clockwork, the Club for Growth announced a commitment to spend seven figures on ads for Cruz and the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) waded into the fray. The RPT tweeted out a reference to O’Rourke’s past DUI arrests and party boy reputation.
There's always the chance that Robert “Beto” O’Rourke won’t debate Senator Cruz because he got into a hazy situation… pic.twitter.com/4nmd42AEkl
— Texas GOP (@TexasGOP) August 29, 2018
There was also a tweet referencing Beto’s musician past.
Maybe Beto can’t debate Ted Cruz because he already had plans… pic.twitter.com/LdqKTh3yK4
— Texas GOP (@TexasGOP) August 28, 2018
All but the most strident of #TheResistance still predict that Cruz will squeak out a victory in November. At this point, the real concern is how big of a victory and the effect on the down-ballot Republican races. I expect this race will remain quite competitive up until election day and it’s going to get ugly. Traditionally Labor Day marks the beginning of campaign season in earnest but we no longer live in traditional political times. 2018 races in Texas are no different than anywhere else.
But Republicans are treating the race as though it’s competitive, conceding that Cruz could lose. Most worrisome is the combination of a rough midterm environment for Republicans; Cruz’s favorable ratings, which are treading water; and the turn against Republicans in Texas’ affluent, major metropolitan suburbs, especially among women, which account for a big chunk of the electorate.
“I’m freaking worried,” a Republican consultant monitoring the campaign said. “Cruz is going to have to unleash very serious negatives on Beto. He needs to turn this into a race that’s all about Beto’s record and Beto’s views.”
The debates will likely not attract large audiences. Beto is used to a more free-wheeling style with his audiences at town halls and other appearances, which is a sign of his less formal style. Cruz thrives in traditional, spirited debates. Now we wait for any major mistakes to surface and hope that swing voters become interested enough to tune in.
I’ll end with this. One mistake O’Rourke has given Cruz to use for his advantage is Beto’s recent remark that taking a knee is the most American thing anyone can do. This is Texas and that isn’t playing very well. You can see Cruz’s new video yourself. I report, you decide.