Last Friday, just six days before the people of Mississippi would finally get a chance to see candidates for the US Senate special election square off in debate, news broke that Mike Espy has decided to pull out, declaring that if Appointed Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith would not participate in the forum then he wouldn’t either. Hyde-Smith had long since declared her intention not to participate, which left Chris McDaniel as the last man standing.
So, even with minor candidate Tobey Bartee willing to participate along with McDaniel, with Espy and Hyde-Smith bowing out, sponsors have cancelled the US Senate special election debate.
But the people of Mississippi deserve a chance to see candidates vying for such a lofty and important position lay out their vision for the state and the nation. Other candidates in other states are squaring off on statewide television, but not in Mississippi.
Sadly, political seasons void of debates has become the norm. According to a report by Big League Politics, Millsaps political science professor and Rhodes Scholar Kenneth Townsend has said that Mississippi has never held a Senate primary debate, which is essentially what the November 6 special election is, with the top two candidates (assuming no one gets a majority) facing off in a runoff three weeks later. Incidentally, Millsaps was scheduled to host the first debate on October 4.
We saw the same thing in 2014 when McDaniel challenged Cochran to debate but Ole Thad repeatedly declined.
And we know why Cindy refused to debate. Not a very polished or effective speaker, with trouble answering even basic questions, she would be crushed by McDaniel and forced to explain her career as a Democrat and a Hillary Clinton supporter. It wouldn’t go very well.
So why did Espy suddenly bail out? I think there are four possible reasons why he decided at the last minute not to participate. It could be one or a combination of these reasons.
One: Many McDaniel supporters understandably concluded from the first moment that the powers-that-be, the Establishment, the Barbour Boys, got to Espy and through some nefarious method persuaded him to cancel, not wishing to give McDaniel a platform to espouse his true conservative message. As untrustworthy as I am of the Establishment and their motives, I don’t really buy this reasoning in totality. It might be true, to some degree, but there’s no way to know for sure. What could Espy have possibly been promised? I think more practical reasons are possible.
Two: It’s likely that Espy agreed to the debate early on thinking that Hyde-Smith would be forced to join the crowd. He would then be the major Democrat on the stage and could rise above the possible fray, sitting back and watching with joy as McDaniel and Hyde-Smith ripped each other to shreds, all at the behest of the media minions who would be asking the debate questions. Remember, the mainstream media loves to watch Republicans fight each other and there’s almost no chance the state’s political pundits could resist stoking a McDaniel battle with Hyde-Smith. With Espy, and the help of the media, glossing over his record, he would then seem like the more rational candidate.
Three: It is very likely that Espy could have taken a hard look at some serious polling data, particularly the internal numbers, and rightfully concluded that McDaniel just might be headed for a victory over Hyde-Smith, setting up a probable Espy-McDaniel runoff three weeks later. So, since Hyde-Smith would be there to squabble with McDaniel, why give McDaniel an easy platform to rip into Espy’s ties to the Clintons, his past corruption, and his very liberal voting record?
Four: Giving Chris McDaniel any platform at all is a very dangerous undertaking, and the Establishment knows it. In Remember Mississippi I called it the “Reagan Effect”:
In 1980, Jimmy Carter had based his entire campaign, not on his dismal record, but on making Ronald Reagan look like a dangerous, radical, extremist who couldn’t be trusted with presidential power. Listening to the Carter message, one could reasonably conclude that Reagan must have possessed horns, a pointed tail, and carried a pitchfork. Yet after their lone debate that fall, when Reagan wiped the floor with the president, people around the country realized that this Reagan fellow was not dangerous, not extreme, and certainly not radical. The debate had a humanizing effect, if you will, and completely obliterated the Carter message. Cochran’s team had the same fears. Chris McDaniel, a young, energetic, dynamic candidate, on statewide television, in contrast to an older, feebler, and not always lucid senior senator, would come off as rational and in line with the thinking of most Mississippi Republicans. The Carter mistake could not be repeated. It was simply too big of a risk to take.
Espy and Hyde-Smith won’t make that mistake either, so there will be no debate and, in all honesty, the odds are there was never going to be one under any circumstances.
But regardless of any reasoning for the cancellation, the bottom line is this: Chris McDaniel has the courage to debate all of his opponents, anywhere, anytime. He’s not afraid of a debate stage, the media and their probing questions, or in espousing his true conservative message. On the other hand, his opponents do not possess his courage nor do they believe the people are worthy of a debate, which is why neither will show up.
And if they won’t debate on television in front of the people of the state of Mississippi, then they are not worthy to serve in the US Senate and should drop out of the race.
In short, if they won’t debate, they must vacate.