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August 21, 2013 1:01 PM Long Shots

By Ed Kilgore

Slate’s Dave Weigel does some investigative reporting in the wake of interest in Ted Cruz’s background as a champion college debater, and turns up these reminiscences:

I talked to some Yale debate team alumni who competed with Cruz in college—Yale and Princeton have a decades-spanning, Crips/Bloods sort of debate team rivalry. Slate’s own Dahlia Lithwick faced off against Cruz in college tournaments, and remembers his high-minded rhetoric. “He wasn’t ‘creepy’ on the debate circuit—he was a phenom,” she said. “When Ted was 19 people knew he’d run for president.”
Cruz competed against and lost to former White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee in the 1991 National Debate Team tournament (Cruz went on to win in 1992). Goolsbee’s debate partner, David Gray, recalled that after beating Cruz and his partner, David Panton, one team challenged the other to a pickup basketball game. As Gray remembers it, Goolsbee was matched up to guard Cruz, and proceeded to trash talk Cruz up and down the court.
“Austan can be very, very funny. He kept challenging Ted to shoot the ball from outlandishly long places—‘I bet you $20 you can’t make a shot from right here,’” Gray said. “Austan would bait Ted to shoot, shoot, shoot, and it was not a good result for him … Ted couldn’t help himself from taking the shots.” Princeton lost the game.

Ah, yes, the playing fields of the Ivy League, where America’s future super-elites first compete!

I wouldn’t want to read too much into these school tales, other than to observe that college debates (like law school Moot Court competitions) are primarily a test of preparation, speed and self-confidence more than depth or breadth of intelligence or reasoning skills. I went to a “debate school” myself (Emory University), though a good while before Ted & Austan were strutting their stuff, and I sure wouldn’t want to live in a society ruled by my teammates or myself (our best debaters would gather during pre-registration every quarter to figure out how to select the easiest courses so they could spend all their time on debate).

But yeah, it’s interesting that Young Ted couldn’t resist the long shots, and perhaps even relevant to politics if he keeps getting those rapturous receptions in Iowa and decides to ignore the conventional wisdom that he’s far too inexperienced to run for president.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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