This evening, the Texas Tribune streamed a Univision debate between State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the likely Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor, and Mayor Julian Castro (D-San Antonio), seen as a future Democratic candidate for high office. The debate, moderated by the Tribune’s Evan Smith, centered around immigration policy. It was sparked a few weeks ago, after a series of confrontational tweets on the parts of Patrick and Castro.
As some have already commented, the debate quickly focused upon political disputes and not too many issues of substance. Much to Castro’s chagrin, Patrick was also successful in infusing his favorite subject –abortion– into the mix. However, overall, the debate saw Castro figuratively wiping the floor with Patrick. Frankly, it was a beautiful sight, considering how long it has been since I have seen a Democrat do well in a debate. I attribute this success in equal parts to Castro, Patrick and the organizers of this debate. Most notably, the format allowed for the candidates to swiftly respond to each others’ points. All too often, the simple and elegant grace of the Lincoln-Douglas debate has been replaced by an ugly abhorrence consisting of sound bite after sound bite. Fortunately, the format of tonight’s debate allowed for Castro to call out Patrick on his –admittedly copious– taradiddles.
The best one-liners of the night consisted of Castro twice referencing Patrick’s “huffing and puffing,” as well as his skill in forcing Patrick to admit he did not actually give the currently pending immigration proposals in Congress more than a cursory lookthrough. This success, in my opinion, is mostly due to the fact that Castro is just one of those politicians who come but once in a generation. A Harvard trained debater, much like Barack Obama or Ted Cruz, Castro possesses a trait that sets him apart from the other two men, a sense of purpose beyond pure self-aggrandizing. I have said for years that Obama cares about little beyond Obama, and the whole world has long known the same of Cruz, but Castro is different. Eschewing a life in big law, Castro returned to the place of his birth and immediate began working for the betterment of his community. Perhaps that is why he shined so brightly tonight, a harbinger of future appearances; Castro actually believes the stuff coming out of his mouth. An honorable and rare trait from the political class these days.
Simply put, Castro cut through Patrick and his half-truths with remarkable efficiency. Patrick brought much of this upon himself, he is the epitome of a person who will say or do anything to advance his own self-interest. From the on-air vasectomy to the “invasion” rhetoric, it all follows the same pattern.
I have always had great respect for the political acumen of Castro, but it jumped to a whole other level following this debate. He obviously has an inspiring life story and has a knack of taking tough stands, also hallmarks of Wendy Davis. The difference between the two is that Castro thinks on his feet and is ready to quip back with an alacrity not seen in this State since Lyndon Johnson. Have I mentioned that I cannot wait for 2018?