Analysis: Stockman’s attacks on Cornyn in Senate race fall short of truth
By TODD J. GILLMAN
Email Published: January 22, 2014 11:10 PM Updated: January 23, 2014 10:27 AM
WASHINGTON — From the first hours of his uphill bid to oust fellow Republican John Cornyn from the Senate, Rep. Steve Stockman has leveled a torrent of eye-popping allegations.
He’s depicted Cornyn as a liberal who loves higher taxes and debt, hates the Second Amendment and stabs conservatives in the back at any opportunity. The nonstop heckling, on Twitter and other social media, has become the hallmark of Stockman’s shoestring effort in the primary.
“Obama just stripped peaceful, law-abiding Americans of their gun rights for life,” Stockman, R-Clear Lake, wrote in one fundraising blast last week. “And my opponent just announced he’s introducing a bill making Obama’s lifetime gun ban scheme permanent federal law.”
Last week, Stockman tweeted in outrage that Cornyn “just voted with every Democrat” for a $1 trillion spending bill. Monday, he launched a website built on the claim that “Cornyn loves ObamaCare” — an attack that one Cornyn aide called “delusional.”
Like many Stockman assertions, these are damning and startling — and they hinge on contorted logic, fuzzy facts or outright speculation.
Obama didn’t ban gun ownership, recently or ever. Cornyn has said he’d like to make it harder for violent people with mental illness to have access to guns — a goal shared by the NRA, which supports the senator for re-election.
On the spending bill, Cornyn supported a three-day extension of last year’s budget that averted another government shutdown. He voted against the $1 trillion deal.
Campaigns, especially winning campaigns, aren’t built around unvarnished, unbiased arguments. Selective use of facts is as common in politics as in a court of law. Voters, like juries, must often sort out competing claims. And it’s not as though Cornyn is devoting his resources to flattery of the challenger.
“It’s not out of bounds in terms of political campaigning,” Cornyn said Tuesday, “but that’s the role of the campaign, to cut through the allegations and what’s fact and what’s fiction.
But Stockman has made an art of audacity.
“That’s his modus operandi. He says outrageous things that are very often untrue,” said Mark Jones, chairman of the political science department at Rice University in Houston.
“It’s a strategy that works for him and seems to be part of his personality. … He just lies. He eventually gets called out on it, but the damage has been done.”
Stockman adviser Al Lee defends the congressman’s methods and allegations.
“Everything is substantiated by fact,” he said. “Cornyn is criticizing him for being clever in getting free publicity?”
In one of his first email missives of the campaign, Stockman asserted that “John Cornyn wakes up every morning and works to make the Senate a more liberal place.”
He accused the incumbent of betraying tea party hero Sen. Ted Cruz and other true conservatives time and again and spending “four years voting like a Democrat” before shifting gears in time for re-election.
Voting records show that Cornyn is among the most consistent Republicans — not surprising, since he’s been the party’s deputy Senate leader for the past year. He ran its Senate campaign arm for four years before that.
In 2013, Cornyn voted with fellow Republicans 89 percent of the time — more often than even Cruz. In 2011 and 2012, his 92 percent party loyalty record put him in a first-place tie with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
In 2009 and 2010, Cornyn voted with fellow Republicans 94 percent of the time, tied for fifth. He was fourth most loyal in the two years before that.
To Stockman, Cornyn is a turncoat.
“If we put John Cornyn back in the Senate, he will go on betraying Republicans every single day with a vengeance. Well, I’m sick and tired of being shot in the back by someone in my own foxhole,” he wrote supporters.
He has asserted that only “liberal media outlets” view Cornyn as conservative; as Cornyn aides point out, staunch conservative Gov. Rick Perry stood behind the senator at his re-election kickoff.
Cornyn has Stockman badly outgunned by the usual metrics, with $7 million in the bank.
The congressman had only $32,000. He’s doing his best to stoke disgruntlement among tea party activists, exploiting the contrast in styles between Cornyn and Cruz.
In one fundraising appeal, he asserted that Cornyn “lustfully … knifed Ted Cruz in the back to try and stop him from being elected to the Senate.” But Cornyn was scrupulously neutral in the 2012 primary between Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
Cruz has declined to endorse Cornyn, citing his policy of staying neutral in primaries featuring GOP incumbents. But Cruz has praised his fellow senator and donated to his campaign. He’s said little about Stockman’s challenge.
Cornyn’s handling of Obamacare is a favorite Stockman target.
The senator fought the law and routinely condemns it. The long-term solution, he said, is for Republicans to win control of the Senate so they can repeal it.
Like other GOP leaders in Congress, he viewed Cruz’s threat to shut down the government as unwise.
Before and during the two-week shutdown Cruz instigated, Cornyn said the tactic had no chance of forcing Democrats to abandon their signature health care law.
Stockman paints that as outright support for Obamacare.
Hyperbole has long been part of the Stockman repertoire.
During his first stint in Congress, he asserted that the federal government had “executed” the Branch Davidians near Waco. Voters booted him from office after one term.
Stockman made his comeback in 2012, in part through a smear campaign against state Sen. Mike Jackson, the presumed front-runner.
Through campaign material designed to look like community newspapers, he called Jackson a “pro-choice liberal” despite top scores from Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group.
Torpedoed by that and similar attacks, Jackson didn’t even make the runoff.