[crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] held his own last night, but (on CNN the morning of the debate) I predicted he was the candidate to watch. My expectation was that he might turn it up a notch and use this debate (coming on the heels of his Iowa poll numbers) to catapult his campaign to the next level.
In that regard, Cruz failed to fully capitalize on his potential “moment.”
Let’s be honest, for all his strengths, Cruz has a likability problem, and there were several moments last night that only served to reinforce that liability.
His line “I do not intend” to support legalizing illegal immigrants wasn’t just a flip-flop, the parsing of this legalistic-sounding language felt almost “Clinton-esque”—to me, at least.
There was also a moment where Cruz simply refused to stop talking, despite the numerous protestations (“Thank you, Mr. Cruz!”) of moderators Wolf Blitzer and Hugh Hewitt. For what seemed like minutes (but was probably seconds), Cruz unleashed a word spiral of trite nothingness that seemed to suggest an utter confidence that — if he could just keep talking! — everything would be okay.
If Trump thinks he can insult his way into the White House, then Cruz seems to think he can talk his way into it.
There were other problems. Cruz, at one point, suggested “carpet bombing” ISIS, but when pushed, suggested we could do this in a targeted manner that would minimize collateral damage — a notion that seems to be a contradiction in terms.
But the biggest problem might have been that, after criticizing Donald Trump behind closed doors, Cruz refused to do so in public. It felt simultaneously obsequious and calculating. And Trump’s response at the moment was almost as if to pat Cruz on the head. I wonder how that’s going to play.
Again, this is nitpicking. Cruz had a fine night. He certainly didn’t go backwards. And some of the things that might have viscerally turned me off were arguably smart strategic moves (for example, his decision not to pick a fight with Donald Trump). I just suspect he missed an opportunity to fully seize the moment.
Note: The author’s wife formerly advised Ted Cruz’s campaign for U.S. Senate.