Castro vs Patrick on Immigration: A Tale of Two Debates

By Victor Landa, NewsTaco

My first mistake, when watching Tuesday’s Julian Castro/Dan Patrick debate, was that I started keeping score. The second mistake was not having a bowl of popcorn at my side.

First, a little (quick) background. Julian Castro is the Mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Dan Patrick is a Texas state Senator from Houston who is running for Lt. Governor. Patrick has recently been Tweeting about immigration. Castro took offense to some of the Tweets. The Senator challenged the Mayor to a debate over immigration, Castro accepted and the two squared off in San Antonio.

These men aren’t running against each other for anything. They faced-off because neither dared to back-off. What we got was an hour’s worth of live stream tit-for-tat where both men managed to talk at each other and past each other at the same time. Here’s what I got from the event: neither Castro nor Patrick won the clash; they may have been in the same arena, but they were swinging in two different bouts.

They each brought something different to the debate.

Patrick is a Texas Tea Party favorite, and he’s a seasoned radio talk-show broadcaster. Castro is an Ivy League trained Democratic Party favorite with national credentials. Where the state Senator was smooth while rattling-off the typical list of Tea Party talking points, the Mayor was tactical in his attacks against the predictable offensive. But this was not a match.

If the debate would have been held with Patrick in a radio booth and Castro calling-in over the phone, it would have made sense in Patrick’s favor. If it would have been held in a government debate venue (City Council chambers or legislative hall) Castro would have been as if at home. But it was neither, so it made a score card obsolete: like matching runs against goals.

They each came with an aim in mind.

Patrick was smart. It was to his advantage to cross wit and swords with a Democrat the likes of Castro. His Tea Party base was energized and it certainly helped his chances in his coming Republican runoff election. But he won no converts and telegraphed his campaign strategy. If he prevails in the runoff he’ll be facing state Senator Leticia Van de Putte, a seasoned Latina politician who I’m sure was taking notes during the debate.

On the other hand, Castro accomplished what he set out to do: stand against too often repeated  anti-immigrant rhetoric. He gave voice to what many Latinos have been thinking; he confronted the condescending attitude and dog whistle politics that have dominated the rhetoric of the extreme right. And in exchange he lost nothing.

So, who won the debate?

Maybe this wasn’t a debate to be won or lost. Each partisan side has something to celebrate because each side was rooting for a different objective. In the Tea Party’s eyes Patrick made his points, stuck to them and did so while raising his profile and confronting a Democratic big-shot. To pro-immigrant liberals Castro stood-up to the right-wing’s tired nastiness, refuted the litany of falsehoods and revealed them to a state wide audience.

It’s hard to keep score on a night like that, but it was fun to watch. If only I had remembered the popcorn.

[Photo by Ramiro Cavazos/Facebook]

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