Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke emulated President Trump's attacks in his final, fiery debate with incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday night, openly calling Cruz "Lyin' Ted" and charging that he was "all talk and no action" in the Senate.
The newly aggressive strategy came as polls show that O'Rourke, despite raising a record-setting $38 million in campaign funds last quarter, is lagging significantly behind Cruz with just three weeks to go until Election Day.
O'Rourke announced Monday he would not share portions of that fundraising haul with other Democratic candidates, even as polls show that Republicans are starting to pull away in several key races as the GOP looks to expand its slim 51-49 majority in the Senate.
“Senator Cruz is not going to be honest with you," O'Rourke said during the debate Tuesday, after Cruz described O'Rourke's voting record on environmental issues.
"He’s dishonest," O'Rourke continued. "It’s why the president called him Lyin’ Ted, and it’s why the nickname stuck. Because it’s true.” (A leading fact-checker, citing police reports, has challenged the accuracy of a claim made by O'Rourke at an earlier debate that he never left the scene of a DUI incident in 1998.)
Cruz fired back, telling the 46-year-old O'Rourke his universal health care plans didn't make sense using even "elementary school math" and alluding to his declining odds at the polls.
Cruz cited studies like the one released in July by the left-leaning Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which said prominent "Medicare for all" solutions advocated by Democrats would increase government health care spending by $32.6 trillion over 10 years, and require historic tax increases.
“It’s clear Congressman O’Rourke’s pollsters have told him to come out on the attack," Cruz said. "So if he wants to insult me and call me a liar, that’s fine.”
The debate included some lighter moments, with the candidates pausing their broadsides to describe some personal anecdotes. Cruz mentioned that he tries to stay in touch with his family while he's in Washington using Facetime calls, and O'Rourke discussed nursing a seemingly hopeless blind squirrel and sneaking in jam sessions on a basement drum kit that he had ostensibly purchased for his son.
However, the tone was predominately sharp and testy. Cruz repeatedly told the debate moderator, local reporter Jason Whitely, to stop interrupting him -- most forcefully when he was condemning what he called the rise of liberal partisan incivility.
The two later sparred over Cruz's role in the 2013 shutdown of the federal government, which he largely spearheaded as a means of opposing the Affordable Care Act, known as ObamaCare.
"You want to talk about a shutdown?" Cruz asked. "With Congressman O'Rourke leading the way, [there'll be] two years of a partisan circus and a witch hunt on the president."
That was a reference to O'Rourke's stated support for impeaching President Trump, which top Democratic leaders have said would be premature. Cruz noted O'Rourke is “the only Democratic Senate nominee in the country who has explicitly come out for impeaching President Trump.”
"He’s dishonest. It’s why the president called him 'Lyin’ Ted,' and it’s why the nickname stuck."
Cruz predicted "utter chaos" if O'Rourke's proposal became a reality.
"Washington would be consumed by partisan investigations. That's not civility," Cruz said, noting that he and his wife had been chased out of a Washington, D.C. restaurant recently by liberal protesters chanting, "We believe women."
O'Rourke's position on impeaching the president apparently has changed during the campaign. “Impeachment, much like an indictment, shows that there is enough there for the case to proceed,” O’Rourke has said, “and at this point there is certainly enough there for the case to proceed.” However, the 46-year-old has clarified that although he would vote for impeaching Trump, he hasn't been in favor of actually initiating impeachment proceedings.
During the debate, O'Rourke pushed back, telling Cruz it was "really interesting to hear you talk about a partisan circus after your last six years in the Senate." Laughter broke out in the debate room, which had a live audience.
The upstart Texas representative asked, "If you have such a special relationship with the president, where is the result of that? You are all talk and no action." Cruz pointed to his role in the passage of Trump's historic tax package last year as one of his signature achievements in the Senate.
O'Rourke's language again mirrored one of the president's favored lines. In speeches, interviews, and rallies, Trump has often derided politicians as being typically "all talk and no action."
Trump, once Cruz's bitter rival during the 2016 presidential campaign, has endorsed Cruz. He is poised to become a bigger factor in the race: On Monday, Trump will hold a rally for Cruz at the 8,000-seat NRG Arena in Houston.