Grading Ted Cruz on Meet The Press: Meh

In his first national, mainstream media appearance since the Republican Senate nominee won the runoff election late last month, Ted Cruz displayed on Meet The Press yesterday what propelled him past Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst last month in the runoff: An ability to say pretty things and make everyone remember there's more to Texas politics than George W. Bush and Rick Perry.

But this was one of his first televised chances to debate Democrats -- Dewhurst is one conservative dude, and the two of them agreed on everything from taxation to immigration -- and Cruz floundered a few times. Especially when he was faced with a question that will bedevil Republican politicians over the next few months. How is it that Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Romney's veep selection, can honestly harrumph about government spending when he supported the Bush Administration's wanton use of America's credit card?

Cruz got bamboozled by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed:

Reed: (Paul Ryan) wasn't serious under President Bush. Why wasn't he serious when we were funding the war in Iraq? Why didn't he say America should pay for the war in Afghanistan? Why didn't he -- why didn't he say (the) TARP program needs to be available to folks on Main Street? He was for the automotive bailout. ... Cruz: Did the Democrats say any of that?

Reed: The Democrats did not. But I tell you what, we're not walking around talking about a guy who has a career doing something completely different (than his rhetoric).

Cruz: I agree with you.

Reed: That doesn't make any sense.

Cruz: I agree with you.

Cruz also had the curious comment that Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate will allow the nation to focus on substantive issues, when, in reality, all we seem to have heard about Ryan is that a) he performs manly exercises, b) he hunts fish with his bare hands and c) he's an Atlas Shrugged-toting Ayn Rand acolyte.

Cruz said yesterday that if Republicans focus on issues -- not personality -- they'll win the White House. We found this deeply puzzling. Agreed, let's not focus on Romney's personality; he's currently trying to jazz up his somnolent image by gorging on various kinds of ice creams. But Ryan's personality? It's the only likable thing about him! He fishes with his bare hands. Why wouldn't Republicans trumpet that? It's way better than talking about what Ryan would do to Medicare if he gets into office.

But parsing Cruz's rhetoric too finely may miss the greater subtext in his Meet The Press appearance. And that's this: Ted Cruz was on national television, and he didn't make Texas look stupid. He was articulate and prepared. In fact, he looked ready for his next challenge -- addressing the nation at the GOP Convention in Tampa Bay later this month. Please, Cruz, just remember everything you're supposed to say.

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