Ted Cruz spent Wednesday night's nationally televised tax debate portraying his counterpart Bernie Sanders, along with the Senate's other top liberal, Elizabeth Warren, as the face of the Democratic Party.
The CNN debate was supposed to be about the Republican tax plan. But, starting with his opening comments, Cruz tried to reframe the conversation to focus on the Vermont senator's vision of transforming the U.S. into a high-tax country with Nordic-style social democracy.
"Bernie and the Democrats want every one of you watching today to pay more in taxes," Cruz told the audience in his first comments.
After an early skirmish with Sanders over the estate tax, Cruz informed him that "you and Elizabeth Warren represent the heart of the Democratic Party."
Later, he mused that "the lesson the Democratic Party took from [the 2016] election was Hillary Clinton was too moderate, and I think the Democratic Party is the party of you and Elizabeth Warren."
Sanders, an independent, ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination during the 2016 campaign.
The two senators, representing opposite the two ideological extremes of the upper chamber, only really debated the elimination of the estate tax, of all the provisions of the GOP tax plan, in depth. Otherwise, they spoke about taxes at a high level of abstraction, with Sanders highlighting inequality trends and Cruz turning to the Reagan era for justification for new tax cuts.
For most other points in the 90-minute debate, they veered off into disagreements about the costs and benefits Sanders' proposals, such as for campaign finance reform, single-payer healthcare, government-provided college, and more.
In response to a question from a Danish citizen, Sanders went into an extended riff on the merits of Denmark's model of government, and then later accused Cruz of red-baiting for equating Scandinavian social democracy with failed socialism in Cuba and elsewhere.
It was a debate that both were eager to have, with Sanders making the case that people would pay more in taxes if they saved on the other end with government-provided services, and Cruz noting that Sanders was endorsing higher taxes for the middle class.
"You've seen two fundamental visions of government," Cruz said in his closing remarks, concluding that "Bernie admitted –they want to raise taxes on all Americans."