Call Me Crazy, Maybe: The Sadler-Cruz Debate


Eileen Smith

What you don’t do, is do your job as a legislator worried that some troll will come along 10 years later or 20 years later and try to run a campaign against you.—Paul Sadler, U.S. Democratic Senate candidate

Just so there’s no confusion, the “troll” in question would be Republican nominee Ted Cruz. For future reference this is what happens when debate moderators decide to “throw out all the rules.” Last night the two U.S. Senate candidates faced each other, literally, in their first of two debates to supposedly discuss the very real issues facing Texans. But it quickly turned into a brass-knuckle fight over who’s the biggest liar and who’s crazier, not who would be the better senator. Cruz and Sadler, both lawyers, are clearly more comfortable cross-examining a hostile witness than actually making a case. And this was definitely a hostile atmosphere.

Not that you could really blame Sadler for his overly aggressive attitude. The latest Texas Lyceum poll, released yesterday, showed Cruz leading Sadler 50 to 24 percent, and no Democrat has won state office here since 1994. Those are rather daunting statistics especially when your opponent has quickly become a virtual powerhouse in Republican circles who’s moved beyond “rising star” to actual star, commanding the attention of national party figures and even landing a primetime speaking role at the Republican National Convention. Although the former solicitor general has never held elected office, that’s a clear advantage in this political climate.

The candidates were a little better at staying on message when there were helpful charts in front of them. Referring to Mitt Romney’s comments that 47 percent of Americans are dependent on government, Cruz was asked whether he believes that Texans receiving benefits are victims. That would be the 38 percent of Texans who pay no income tax, the 27 percent who collect Social Security, the 14 percent receiving retirement benefits and the 14 percent receiving food stamps, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Cruz’s automated reply?

“President Obama and his administration are trying to get as many Americans dependent on government so that the Democrats can stay in power for perpetuity.”

To which Sadler responded, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” (This was just the first of a number of times that Sadler called Cruz crazy.) “You really are accusing the president of the United States of using a government program to manipulate people to not get a job, to be dependent on government for services?” Sadler asked. Of course not. As Cruz helpfully pointed out, he never once used the word “manipulate.”

On the issue of creating jobs, Sadler said he would take control of the national debate, which seems like an easy enough task, and Cruz said that he would remove barriers to small businesses: “What’s inherent in the ethos of Texas is we’re not looking for a handout.” Sadler saw this as another opportunity to pounce. “This idea that somehow Mr. Cruz is lecturing us on standing on your own feet, I find incredible,” he said. “You’ve spent most of your adult life working for the government and you haven’t created jobs, you haven’t owned your own business, I have.”

Cruz has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act “in its entirety” because it’s “designed to lead us to socialized care.” Not surprisingly Sadler called this the “worst legislative strategy you can possibly employ.”

Turning to immigration, the candidates were asked how they would handle the 1.6 million illegal immigrants living in Texas. Sadler supports a path to citizenship, a work permit program and the DREAM Act. Cruz said he supports a “staged approach” which would first involve securing the border. (Apparently this is as far as he’s gotten.) As for his opponent and his views on immigration, Cruz actually complimented him. “He is running a campaign with a great deal of courage,” Cruz said, “because he is running an unapologetically liberal campaign.”

Cruz also had an apology of sorts for Sadler. “I’m sorry you believe I’m a troll.” It’s always nice to end on a high note.