Tom Cotton

Tom Cotton Won't Debate His Libertarian Challenger. The Event Will Happen Anyway.

Ricky Dale Harrington is polling at 38 percent in a two-way race against one of the leading voices of the GOP's ascendant authoritarian nationalism.

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) is ducking a chance to debate his Libertarian challenger, even as a new poll shows the race tightening in the final weeks of what could be a rough election season for Republicans.

The debate, scheduled to be broadcast by Arkansas' PBS station on Wednesday night, will take place even without Cotton's participation. That means it will basically be an hour-long opportunity for Ricky Dale Harrington, Jr., to speak directly to the voters who will decide next month whether Cotton deserves another six years in the Senate.

Cotton, who has emerged in recent years as one of the loudest voices in the GOP's ascendant authoritarian nationalist wing, appeared to be heading for an easy reelection bid when the only Democrat to enter the race dropped out late last year.

Enter Harrington, a 34-year-old prison chaplain running a campaign that gives voters about as stark a choice as they are likely to find in any two-way contest this year. Where Cotton has claimed that America has an "under-incarceration problem" and called for deploying more heavy-handed police tactics against protesters, Harrington wants to reduce mandatory minimums and demilitarize the police. That contrast would provide fertile ground for serious debate between the two men—if Cotton would agree to show up.

Even before this week's debate, Harrington has made a splash. According to a poll released last week by American Research Group (a polling firm that FiveThirtyEight grades well), Cotton leads 49 percent to 38 percent.

That's a comfortable enough lead—and every professional prognosticator has the race listed as a "safe" Republican win, even as the tide has turned against the GOP in the presidential race and some key Senate battlegrounds. Still, Cotton is polling at less than 50 percent in a two-way race, and 13 percent of voters say they remain undecided.

This week's non-debate is an opportunity for Harrington to appeal to those undecided voters. Failing to show up means Cotton stands to gain nothing.

"Candidates who duck debates tend to lose," says Joe Bishop-Henchman, chairman of the Libertarian Party. He says the recent polling shows that Harrington is gaining momentum in the race. "I'm glad PBS is letting him make his case."

When Cotton rejected the invitation to the debate, his campaign released a statement saying he was "spending time on the campaign trail when the Senate is in recess, and looks forward to making his case to Arkansans across our state before this November's election."

What Cotton won't do, apparently, is go head-to-head with a challenger that nearly four out of 10 Arkansans say they support.

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  2. Exactly what does an incumbent leading by that kind of margin gain by debating his opponent? Giving himself an opportunity to say something stupid and sink his campaign? Spending time on something that isn’t to his advantage instead of spending his time on something actually useful? I wouldn’t show up to this debate, either.

    1. Makes Cotton look weak and cowardly when his opponent, from a fringe third party at that, is polling so high.

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      2. No, it says nothing about Cotton. It shows how weak the Democratic Party is off the coasts.

        1. Out in Bay Area where most people are Democrat, the Republicans are friendly to Libertarians. But down in Kern County where most people are Republicans, damn do the Republicans HATE the libertarians!

          One party districts hate all other parties equally. Power is jealous.

          1. I’m sure this is real and not your own biases.

            1. Why so skeptical? Republican posters on here like you, John, lovecon etc. sure seem to hate libertarianism

          2. You are confusing libertarianism with the LP. Political and governance philosophies are a Venn Diagram, whereas political parties are a line in the sand. If the LP held the majority, Rs & Ds would find common ground.

            What you’re speaking of however, is a well-known principle that defines just about every relationship where there are 3 or more divisions competing for the goal and one has dominance. That includes war, business alliances, political parties and where there are more than 2 girls who want to date the same guy. No secret formula here. The two with the most to gain form an alliance against common enemies. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

            The trick for each of the political parties is to represent enough of the constituency to draw from those parties in sufficient quantities to win the election without alienating core supporters.

      3. So does his photo.

      4. If the roles were reversed, so would be the strategies. It’s well understood that the guy with a substantial lead takes fewer risks. Good political strategy says don’t give your competitor a platform they otherwise would not have. 49% committed is pretty strong against 38%, even if 13% still hangs out there. Most of those undecided aren’t going to the polls if they don’t know by now, and it’s pretty safe that of those who do, your competitor won’t score with all of them.

        It looks the most weak to those who want the debate the most. From the other side, it is justified as , ‘it’s not worth bothering over’.

        Also, perhaps the strategy would be different if the debate were held on a more mainstream network. But PBS has relatively small following, the people who would show up for a fireworks debate aren’t going to show up for a bland hour long commercial.

        Of course anything CAN happen, but overall, it’s a pretty strong election strategy, particularly if you’re out there that day doing big meet and greets and inspiring your supporters to make sure to get to the voting booth.

        1. You are confusing libertarianism with the LP. Political and governance philosophies are a Venn Diagram, whereas political parties are a line in the sand. If the LP held the majority, Rs & Ds would find common ground.
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      6. and of course we know how accurate polls are! Hillary won in 2016, right? Ha, ha. I don’t agree any thinking person will see Cotton appearing weak and cowardly but I do wonder, depending on what kind of opponent he has, if it’s wise, though I still trust his judgment over mine. I suspect his opponent of being not serious and maybe even corrupt, wanting to defund the police, sad and really stupid and not a little gullible for a chaplain.

    2. Declining a debate might be a good strategy if the only alternative is to not have a debate. But when the stated alternative is for your opponent to have the stage for himself, you look scared and weak.

      1. Can we get that chair that Clint used? It was at least as believable as Obo.

      2. Maybe to the audience that bothers to show up. Which, I suspect, will be a very, very small one.

        To me, it looks like Cotton just kicked away a Chihuahua that was nipping at his ankle.

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    3. Cotton seems to think showing up is giving cred to a third party challenger. This is in line with how the two parties treat third parties. It works; look how many people call a principled vote a “wasted” vote.

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      2. You’re probably right about his thinking, but how would that thinking be wrong? How would showing up be NOT giving cred to a third party challenger? Isn’t that why the third party challenger always wants to be in the debate? Credibility.

        Never treat your opponent like a threat unless they are a threat. And sure as hell, don’t treat him like a threat just because he claims “fairness”. Politicians don’t get in the business for the principle of being fair to their opponents. Muhammad Ali fought Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier, not Ismael Laguna, even though Laguna might have gotten in a lucky punch that landed just right.

        Biggest mistake ever made in college football was Michigan playing App State. Michigan wouldn’t have looked good even if they’d won by 50 points. But App State won by 2 points and their attendance next year went up by 25% and they got a network broadcast contract.

  3. Ricky Dale Harrington, Jr. sounds like a good name for a NASCAR driver.

    1. Ricky was a race car driver
      And he drove so goddamn fast
      He never did win no checkered flag
      But he never did come in last

  4. “Authoritarian nationalist wing.” Um, yeah. I present to you example number 10,345,657 of why political discourse is so awful in the country because of media hysteric and hyperbolic framing of issues.

    1. Indeed. The notion that those adjectives are appropriate for Cotton is ludicrous.

      1. Cotton may not be as far off the rails as Hawley but if you look at his actual positions and votes, “authoritarian” and “nationalist” seem like reasonable descriptions to me.

        I’m not sure there are enough like Cotton and Hawley to count as a “wing”, though.

        1. Question, is enforcing laws and the border what you would call an “authoritarian nationalist?”

          This is the problem I have with such subjective labels. What is the definition of “authoritarian nationalist” by the author. Without a clear explanation of what the term means, it comes off as hyperbolic.

          So please, what is it that make him and authoritarian nationalist?

          1. When calls for enforcement of the law are without regard for the justice or the effectiveness of the policy behind the law, then yes, that can earn the “authoritarian” label. His claim that we have an “under-incarceration” problem is an example. In a system where most of us commit three felonies a day, his calls for blind enforcement of the law is both stupid and hypocritical. There’s no way his own behavior can live up to the standards he’s arguing for others. I don’t believe he’s stupid – which means he knows that – which means he thinks the rules are for us and not him. If that doesn’t make him an authoritarian, what does?

            His perpetuation of the dysfunctional and counter-productive War on Drugs is part of that. His opposition to encryption is another. The biggest recent example, in my opinion though, was his opposition to Qualified Immunity reform.

            He earns the “nationalist” label mostly for his over-the-top rhetoric about immigration. Believing in “American exceptionalism” is one thing. “America, right or wrong” (emphasis added) is quite another.

            Remember that Cotton (and the rest of them) aren’t merely calling for enforcement of laws – they have direct responsibility for deciding what those laws will be. When they call for enforcement of bad laws, that goes against their “law and order” credentials.

            1. Yeah, see, this is the definition that gets squishy with me then. So would it be fair to say that everyone in Washington DC is an authoritarian? Cause if we are including tough on crime, law enforcement, regulation enforcement, failing to rescind bad laws, and failing to prevent the passing of bad laws as authoritarian, I don’t know how anyone in DC who doesn’t fall under this definition.

              I would agree that he is fairly nationalist. It was more the “authoritarian” label that I had a problem with. And the problem is that calling someone this indicates a special nature to his authoritarianism. I don’t see that being different from any other politician in DC.

            2. You use more subjective terms to define and justify other subjective terms. “Justice” is the perception of whether the outcome meets the preferences of the person using the term and in some relation to what they would define as fairness, yet another subjective and related term that is as variable as “good music”. Does it mean equal application of the law, laws written to match your moral code, equal opportunity, equal outcome, or is it just a term meant to apply inversely to one’s political opponent?

              Further, a significant basis for your argument is that he doesn’t meet his own qualifications, a standard you set without any citation. Essentially, the ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy. And for what it’s worth, even the most anarchist anarchists that I’ve met all believe in the quality of law and order to some degree, particularly when they are the victim. Yet not so much when arguing subjectively or theoretically, or on someone else’s behalf.

              Lastly, your “America, right or wrong” quote is a misquote with an intended purpose to eliminate the operative words and misdirect the meaning. It is properly quoted as, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Therefore, setting bullshit as your foundation, your conclusion is utter bullshit. There’s nothing wrong with the initial quote, which is why you had to change it to fit your narrative.

        2. Way to keep digging.

        3. Only corrupt hate-America delusion would say such baseless smears about Cotton. A more accurate description would be “for the rule of law” and “pro-America.” But unreasonable/irrational libertarian “Reason” doesn’t believe in the rule of law or even reason or America, only it’s own self-righteousness.

    2. There have been a string of explicitly political assassinations over the past few weeks.
      Odd there’s no article from Reason.
      Oh, and the assassin in Denver was on the clock for the local news station at the time…

    3. sounds about right for Cotton. he makes the neocons sound timid.

  5. Cotton, who has emerged in recent years as one of the loudest voices in the GOP’s ascendant authoritarian nationalist wing, appeared to be heading for an easy reelection bid when the only Democrat to enter the race dropped out late last year.

    This would be a nice time for a trial run of ranked choice voting.

    1. I like ranked-choice voting, but I’m not sure that a two-candidate rate is actually the nicest time for a trial run.

    2. Only two candidates. Rank voting doesn’t work. You need at least three candidates.

      1. I understand that. I guess what I should have said is, it WOULD have been a nice test had the Democrat stayed in the race.

      2. If you think that process works, you haven’t actually seen it in action, and it’s easy and legal to rig. This is when you get a few ringers that sound similar to your opponent to run. Even if they only steal a few points here and there, the right strategy splits the other guy’s votes. They’ve done this in several elections to botch the other guy’s primary, most notably the NY 19th. Installing it as the process in a general election would just raise the stakes on the shenanigans.

        Of course the strategy of installing ringers can also backfire. I have little doubt that the Dems swore everyone else off and then recruited Sanders as a ringer but failed to tell him that’s what he was. Surely, a socialist would be the “also ran” candidate and have no chance, yet tamp down the criticism of a DNC coronation. It almost blew up on them.

  6. “Candidates who duck debates tend to lose,” says Joe Bishop-Henchman, chairman of the Libertarian Party.

    I’m not sure if that’s true. Establishment candidates often duck debates when they only have something to lose against an upstart challenger.

    1. “I’m not sure that’s true.”

      holy shit

    2. Never trust a Henchman, they’re at the bottom of every evil organization and are always the last to know anything.

    3. You know who also tends to lose?

      1. Nationalist authoritarians?

        1. I, for one, welcome our new globalist totalitarian overlords.
          #HailBezos

      2. You have to give Reason credit for quoting a consensus expert, even if what he said is completely insane.

        1. Yeah, I wasn’t going to say “the fuck?” because I simply don’t have any numbers. But the few races I’ve personally seen where a candidate refused to debate (a third party candidate) was because it would give the third party candidate press that he otherwise couldn’t get, and the candidate was safe in his seat, meaning he’d likely only lose support, not gain anything.

  7. “Candidates who duck debates tend to lose,” says Joe Bishop-Henchman, chairman of the Libertarian Party.

    genuine LOL

    1. Isn’t “Bishop-Henchman” redundant?

  8. Tom Cotton is nothing but a pile of old-timey bigotry and cynical hypocrisy.

    He bitches about demanding answers from Joe Biden but won’t debate an opponent.

    He is a roundly bigoted clinger from the can’t-keep-up South.

    He will soon be a lot less important, as one of 106 senators and as a member of the Senate’s enduring minority.

    1. Do you ever get tired of shitting all over yourself?

      1. Of course he doesn’t. It’s his entire reason for being.

        1. Jars of gall bladders of failed dictators don’t have reason, they just are.

          1. Open wider, clingers.

            1. Why are you so redolent of cat piss all the goddamn time? Can’t you wash yourself in the fountain before using the public library internet?

    2. Apparently, my nap was a lot longer than I thought.

      When did the U.S. acquire three more states and six more senators?

    3. 106 Senators? I know you are counting on DC and PR statehood, what is the third new state?

      1. I figure he means Guam. Assuming of course it doesn’t capsize from having too much weight on one end.

        I still love that a politician is on the record worrying about an island capsizing. It just shows the level of intelligence we’re dealing with.

        1. Yeah, but there’s a better one where Johnson keeps talking on the House floor about cage wrestling, midgets against the giants. I just wished the camera would have been panning the room for reactions from the other politicians. There was no doubt a lot of face-palming being done on the left, and wondering if they were going to have to defend this dolt.

    4. Yea yea rev. That ape ain’t going nowhere. Except maybe up a tree!

  9. looks weak and arrogant same-time … can’t be easy to pull off

    1. Is pencil-head a thing? Because that long ass neck is the same width as his damn head.

      He looks like a character in Mystery Men.

  10. I’m actually curious to see if Harrington is able to articulate libertarian positions in a manner that won’t immediately make average voters think he’s just another nut-job. Hope he does well, both in the “debate” and the election.

    1. My completely wild guess is Harrington got the voters left ‘homeless’ when the Democrat left the race. Many Democrats, given NO other choice would probably happily vote a libertarian candidate who’s talking up police reform in a time when police reform is a national topic (for the next 15 minutes).

      1. I hope so. If he can court them without forsaking a central theme of limiting and reducing the size and scope of government, then I’ll support and drop a good word for him to folks I know in Arkansas.

  11. I wish Harrington well, and believe that more of this is necessary for the Libertarian party to do anything in the US. Just look around the country at relatively safe races where the opposition party declines to run, and see if you can start pulling some votes. That is basically what AOC did- she merely jumped in the race at the primary phase, instead of in the general election.

    That said, find it so precious to think that an hour long non-debate will do anything to sway voters or meaningfully move the polls. If Mr Boehm thinks that anyone who is truly undecided is going to watch the non-debate on PBS- if they even know about it- then he is silly.

    Cotton skipping this debate is just as strategically shrewd as Biden/Harris/Debate Commission canceling debates- if your side is in the lead, don’t give the other team an opportunity to gain momentum.

    1. A US Senator with presidential aspirations debating a prison employee on local public TV would be unbelievably retarded.

  12. “Ascendant Authoritarian Nationalist Wing”?
    Okay, okay, that wing, I got it.

    1. Cotton is an asshole, and obviously no friend of liberty. He was even published by the NYT.

  13. Check out the guy challenging Mad Maxine.
    https://youtu.be/Z3wMj24GjtA

    1. Anybody would be better than Maxine Waters. This guy seems young and energetic. Great charisma. I wish his website had better bullet points about what he really intends to do if elected.

  14. 4 out of 10 say they support Harrington, because he’s not named Tom Cotton.

    1. Skipping a debate does not seem like a good strategy for anyone unless you are scared of your opponent. Cotton is not only the incumbent, but a decorated vet and Harvard alumn, so it looks especially weird that he would miss an opportunity for a turkey shoot against a nobody from a clownish third party.

      1. so it looks especially weird that he would miss an opportunity for a turkey shoot against a nobody from a clownish third party.

        Yeah, because everyone looks good when they beat the retard.

  15. Well Sullum will just find it all funny. He thinks Republicans destroying debate processes are hilarious.

    Oh wait…this time it affects the Libertarian. Outrageous!

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  17. When I was growing up in Louisiana we used to say thank God for Arkansas so we have someone to look down on.

  18. Cotton is doing this nigger a favor. A nigger trying to debate a superior white man is like a snail trying to race a cheetah. Don’t waste your time on niggers Senator!

    1. You can take that crap and shove it. You’re the only one that thinks that here.

      Go find some likeminded folks on a different website. You’re in the wrong neighborhood.

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  21. What a cowardly move by Cotton. Hope this gives Ricky Dale Harrington the push he needs to unseat Cotton.

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