On September 21, Democrat Congressman Beto O’Rourke and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz met for the first of three debates in their prominent race for the US Senate. Both delivered predictable talking points, but little did each candidate know the debate would reveal the overall status of the Texas grassroots in 2018.
Democrats are pining for a “blue wave” to overtake Texas in the 2018 midterm election. If they succeed, they will have elected the first Democrat to statewide office in over 20 years. Perhaps no other Democrat has ridden this blue wave as confidently as Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, whose unpredicted popularity has thrown a safely Republican seat into question.
During his SMU debate with Cruz, O’Rourke seemed to concede to conservative values. He attempted several appeals to small business owners, gun owners, evangelicals, and the “law and order” crowd, all while somehow parroting far-left dogma.
O’Rourke’s comments not only demonstrate which political positions Democrats are willing to concede, but more importantly, which conservative positions they are not afraid to oppose. For every concession, one could argue conservatives have “won” that particular issue. Likewise, for every conservative position O’Rourke fervently opposed, the Texas grassroots still have work to do. Beto O’Rourke represents a unique perspective of where Texas is politically, serving as a “barometer” that can measure its strengths and weaknesses in 2018.
So what does the Beto Barometer read?
Immigration was the first topic of discussion. While Senator Cruz urged Texans to remember the focus should be on securing the border and legal immigration, while Rep. O’Rourke focused on the hardships of illegal immigrants.
“We need to bring people out of the shadows,” he said. “Allow them to get right by law. And yes, there should be an earned path to citizenship.”
Next, Cruz and O’Rourke faced off over police relations. As soon as O’Rourke implied police were violent toward African Americans, he seemingly apologized to the officers present in the audience, saying that “no member of law enforcement wants [police brutality] to happen.” Still, Cruz did not let his opponent escape unscathed. Passionately recounting the police funerals he had attended, Cruz managed to invoke applause from the audience.
On the topic of Supreme Court nominations, O’Rourke was more adamant. He stated, “Judge Kavanaugh has a troubling history in agreeing that Roe v. Wade is the decided law of the land,” and even proposed, “we need a Supreme Court Justice who will decide…by precedence…”
O’Rourke did not hesitate to call for an activist justice; though virtually all politicians decry “judicial activism,” progressives like O’Rourke embrace the idea that the Supreme Court should utilize its power to facilitate social change. Though the Supreme Court will likely consist of stricter constitutionalists in the near future, conservatives still need to do a better job of explaining the dangers of judicial activism.
Lastly, on the topic of gun control, it seems conservatives have enjoyed a partial victory. Rep. O’Rourke was careful not to express completely anti-Second Amendment views. He went so far as to mention how his uncle—a sheriff’s deputy—taught him how to be a responsible gun owner and centered his comments around so-called “military grade” weaponry.
O’Rourke mentioned that an emergency room could save someone wounded by a handgun, but not by a high-velocity rifle round. Sounds like O’Rourke knows his views on gun rights are out of touch with everyday Texans and wants to be perceived as more pro-gun than he actually is…
Grassroots Texans have succeeded in advancing the use of a firearm for personal defense, but the need to clarify the true purpose of the Second Amendment still persists.
Except for a brief discussion of trade wars and a lethargic reiteration of the healthcare fight, the rest of the first Cruz-O’Rourke debate seemed to be a contest over personality. Cruz and O’Rourke poked at each other over their political allies and enemies, but they had evidently moved on from the fundamental differences of their policy positions.
The grassroots of Texas have surprisingly begun to exhibit emotional sway over Americans. Protests against the flag and against police are not tolerated, and it seems no progressive will be able to change that. Grassroots conservatives have also enjoyed at least a partial victory over gun rights, but they still need to introduce more philosophical context—the “why” of the Second Amendment—into that debate.
Where conservative Texans still have work to do, however, is with emotional appeals regarding immigration, as indicated by O’Rourke’s unapologetic sympathy for illegal immigrants. Conservatives also need to improve their principled advocacy for strict constitutionalism in the judiciary; Americans must understand their rights come from a Creator, and not from a court.
If there was one thing O’Rourke did not expect to come out of his first debate with Sen. Cruz, it is that he has strengthened the conservative movement. He has educated conservatives about the successes and failures of their arguments, and they may indeed come back with a vengeance this November—thanks to Beto!
This is a commentary submitted and published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to the Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to [email protected]