DALLAS — It was a debate between two lawyers, and it often felt like one.
More often, it was Sadler furiously trying to pin down Cruz on a single yes-or-no question such as whether Cruz believed Obama was a Christian or was born in the United States. Sadler would repeatedly cut Cruz off mid-sentence if Cruz didn't begin his response with "yes" or "no." Each time, Cruz survived the interrogation without giving Sadler the information that he wanted. (When pressed by reporters afterward, Cruz refused to say his views on Obama’s religion or place of birth and said he was focused on "the issues.")
The exchanges often veered wildly off topic, prompting WFAA news reporter Brad Watson and Dallas Morning News reporter Gromer Jeffers Jr. to push the candidates back on track. Questions on illegal immigration and health care turned into arguments about whether Sadler supports the Second Amendment or whom Cruz planned to back for majority whip in the U.S. Senate. Cruz accused Sadler of “hectoring.” Sadler accused Cruz of “lecturing.”
Near the end, Cruz pressed Sadler on whether he ever supported a state income tax. Sadler said he didn’t but then noted that he had to consider every possible way to raise state revenue when he was a key member of the House focused on the budget. Sadler added that he didn’t ever expect “some troll” to use that legislative work against him years later.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Sadler, you believe I’m a troll,” Cruz said.
Cruz is a former Texas solicitor general and has become a national conservative star since defeating Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a July primary runoff for the Republican nomination.
Sadler, a former state representative from Henderson, has been stressing his experience in government on the campaign trail while dismissing Cruz as a right-wing extremist.
Both candidates have also agreed to a second televised debate on Oct. 19 hosted by Dallas-area PBS affiliate KERA-TV. The Texas Tribune is a partner in that event.
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Cruz said his campaign is focused on meeting with voters around the state.
Sadler asked Cruz why there can't be six debates.
"What are you afraid of?" he asked.
Cruz told Sadler he could launch "all the attacks" he wants on him tonight and at the second debate later this month.
When Sadler kept pushing, Cruz said, "I understand you are working very hard to get free media coverage." He said it wasn't his responsibility to help Sadler get that free coverage.
"I’m facing you right now so attack me however you like," Cruz said.
Cruz said Obama's policies such as Dodd-Frank financial regulation reform and the offshore drilling moratorium have cost "thousands of jobs."
Sadler accused Cruz of laying decades of federal policy on Obama's feet.
“Of course Barack Obama is our commander in chief,” Cruz said. “I wish he was a stronger commander in chief.”
Cruz then continued to try and criticize Obama’s policies but Sadler interrupted him repeatedly, asking him to answer the other two questions. Brad Watson asked Sadler to let Cruz finish his statement. Eventually Cruz spoke longer about Obama’s foreign policy but didn’t answer if he was a “birther” or if he believed the president is Christian.
"I have campaigned for two years to reduce the spending in government and we have to get that under control," Cruz said. "Your assertion is just not accurate.”
“If we don’t stay involved in those governments, then Russia, China and other countries in this world will be," Sadler said.
Cruz said the issue was another "area of clear disagreement." He said the U.S. shouldn't be funding countries that conflict with U.S. interests.
“I think we should be using that aid as extensive leverage to protect our national interests. I don’t think we should be writing a blank check," Cruz said. Later, Cruz repeated that assertion that the U.S. should be using the threat of removing foreign aid to influence Egypt's actions.
An incredulous Sadler said Cruz had just described the current foreign policy in place.
“I don’t know what world your living in Ted but this foreign policy has been in place for many many presidents," Sadler said.
Sadler said presidents should always meet with foreign leaders when possible. Cruz said he and Sadler agreed that Obama shouldn’t have “snubbed” Netanyahu. Sadler said he didn’t say Obama had snubbed anyone.
“You’re really big on rhetoric and name calling,” Sadler said. He asked Cruz if he knew the president’s full schedule while he was in New York. Cruz said Obama went on The View and David Letterman while Netanyahu was in New York. Sadler asked if Cruz knew Obama’s and Netanyahu’s schedule for the week or if those programs actually were the reason.
“You just slander our president, you don’t even know what his schedule is,” Sadler said.
Cruz said he wanted to “repeal Obamacare” because its designed to move the country toward a single-payer system and it was “rammed through in a brazen display of arrogance.”
Sadler accused Cruz of giving away a long list of benefits important to Texans in order to “make political points.” He also said that just because Cruz didn’t like how the bill was passed doesn’t mean it’s not worth keeping.
“Sometimes the process stinks,” Sadler said.
During the healthcare segment, Sadler interrogated Cruz about whether he would support Sen. John Cornyn for “majority leader” (he meant Majority Whip, a position he is expected to be in contention for if Republicans win control of the US Senate.) During the primary, Dewhurst had accused Cruz of not supporting Texas by not promising to back Cornyn for the position.
Cruz tried to praise Cornyn and noted that Cornyn is supporting his campaign. Sadler repeatedly interrupted him and ordered him to answer “yes or no” to the question of if he would support Cruz for the majority position.
“He is going to give you a response and it might not be what you want,” Watson finally told Sadler.
Later on, during a talk about immigration, Cruz accused Sadler of not supporting the second amendment. Soon, Cruz was interrogating Sadler over whether he voted against the Conceal Carry law in the Legislature (Sadler later said that he did vote against it.) A similar exchange occurred over whether Sadler ever supported an income tax for Texas. Sadler explained that he had to look at every possible revenue option while in the legislature. He said a state lawmaker doesn’t consider all those issues knowing that “some troll” will use it against him ten years later.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Sadler, you believe I’m a troll,” Cruz said.