After all this time, the great debater showed up, and Sen. Ted Cruz seemed like a real presidential option for the Republican Party.
We've been hearing about Cruz's formidable debating chops for ages now, but we hadn't seen him really bringing those skills to the GOP presidential candidate debates. Until Wednesday night, that is.
Cruz showed up at the third GOP presidential debate, hosted by CNBC in Boulder, Colorado, having already pulled off one hell of a stunt: He had somehow begun to shift things around so that he has become well-positioned to be a potentially viable Republican presidential candidate.
It was never exactly a shock that Cruz was aiming to be president. From the moment the junior senator from Texas hit the U.S. Senate floor in 2012, he did everything to imply that he wanted to run short of carrying a banner emblazoned with "Cruz 2016." But the thing is, Cruz garnered headlines and attention and the approval of the far right of the Republican Party by making enemies instead of allies in the Senate and by ardently and vocally opposing anything and everything, including the legislation put forward by the leadership in his own party.
And it worked for him. Going into the race, the far right GOP adored him and he easily parlayed all of that into a run. But still, it didn't seem remotely possible he would get close to actually being on the ticket.
At the start of this race for the 2016 GOP nod, lots of Republicans talked about liking Cruz, but the general sentiment seemed to be that he would never be the type of candidate who would appeal enough to moderates to actually win the White House in the general election. However, that was before Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson took the conventional wisdom about the GOP presidential race out behind the woodshed and shot it in the head. Virtually everyone who's watched this stuff for a long time is baffled they're still the party's front-runners for president.
While some have tried to fight the Donald, who has sucked up all the oxygen (and media attention) in this campaign for some time, Cruz seems to have assessed the situation and decided to become Trump's best buddy on the campaign trail. Maybe Cruz figured he simply has to not offend Trump supporters and bide his time until Trump runs out of steam. At the same time, maybe he knew that by standing alongside Trump as much as possible, he was making himself look like a much more reasonable alternative, one who might actually get a crack at the White House.
Meanwhile, the Republican candidates have been going through these pony show debates. Cruz has long had a reputation as someone with impressive debate skills, but that prowess didn't really show itself in the first two debates. But on Wednesday night, Cruz got asked a question:
“Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear another Washington-created crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?”
It's a particularly tough question for Cruz: Given your history of being nothing but obstinate, how the hell could you handle a crisis like the debt limit without steering the national economy off a cliff? His opposition to everything is literally what has made him famous.
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Instead of answering it, Cruz dug into a rant about the media. It was a perfectly executed maneuver:
"The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said, as he swiftly ignored the question and used the moment to create his opening and attack. "This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions — Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don't you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues."
The moderators tried to interject and to get Cruz to actually answer the question, but there was no stopping him. The audience cheered. Cruz managed to garner both points with his Republican audience: He managed to insult the media and (in a subtle, backhanded way) the other contenders in the GOP race, all under the guise of defending them and the Republican party. In that one moment, Cruz managed to look like what the Republicans actually need: Someone who can give the Democrats a run for their money on the debate stage.
And the best part is, he never actually answered the question.