Ted Cruz was on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” Monday talking politics, policy, and presidential bids.
Did you know Mr. Meyers is a native of New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state? Perhaps that’s why he booked the firebrand conservative Texas senator – to preview Senator Cruz’s likely candidacy for the folks back home.
So how did Cruz do? Did he hold his own? After all, late night talk TV generally leans left, a la Jon Stewart. In that sense, Cruz might have been worried his appearance was a trap. Indeed, Meyers hit him up front with general questions about gay marriage, climate change, and Cruz’s occasionally-strained relations with GOP Senate colleagues.
“It’s tough for Cruz to come out of an interview like that looking good,” grumbled right-leaning Red Alert Politics on Tuesday morning.
But we think that’s an overreaction. To our eyes Cruz did fine. The guest spot gave him a chance to accomplish two tasks, one aimed at squelching a short-term PR problem, the other at establishing a persona for the longer-term run of the 2016 race.
The short-term dealt with an incident over the weekend in New Hampshire at a town hall meeting where Cruz went through a litany of perceived administration shortcomings and then yelled, “Your world is on fire!” That roused a three-year-old girl in the audience.
“The world is on fire?” piped up the tot, identified later as Julie Trant, who was there with her mother Michelle.
Some media played this up, and by the time the game of aggregation exaggeration was over headlines were saying he’d scared the girl, Cruz complained in his Meyers appearance.
“I was Freddy Krueger. I had fingernails. It was terrible,” Cruz said.
In fact the girl wasn’t scared at all, the Texas lawmaker said. (Video of the event appears to bear this out.) He’d said that she and her mommy would douse the fire, and now the girl thinks Cruz is a fireman, apparently.
Her mom confirmed this in interviews with local media. Cruz told Meyers that kids actually like him. He pointed to that time where he read the Dr. Seuss classic “Green Eggs and Ham” during a Senate filibuster.
“I poll very well with three-to-six year olds,” said Cruz.
His long-term task was a bit more complicated. To be a viable White House contender, Cruz needs to show he’s tough enough to satisfy GOP primary voters hungry for someone to fight what they perceive as the abuses of the Obama administration – but without being, you know, scary.
That’s a fine line, and Cruz walked it. When Meyers asked him about the time his GOP colleague Sen. John McCain of Arizona called him a “wacko bird,” Cruz insisted that he and Senator McCain are now friends. He added that he’s now got a baseball hat in his office, made by a Texas constituent, that’s got a picture of Daffy Duck and the words “wacko bird” on the brim.
“Merchandising opportunity!” said Meyers.
On issues, Cruz kind of sped over the most conservative parts of his positions, and then framed his answer in a way meant to appeal to a more bipartisan crowd. He said that gay marriage is a states’ rights issue, for instance. States have been setting marriage laws for 200 years, and now the “federal government or unelected judges” shouldn’t be changing that, according to Cruz.
(In this case “unelected judges” refers to the Supreme Court, but Meyers did not bring that up.)
Cruz might have been a bit stiff on the Meyers show, but seemed able to handle all the policy stuff a late night host could throw his way. The Texas senator was a champion debater in school, remember. That’s going to make for interesting candidate debates during primary season.
If he runs. Meyers asked him why he was spending so much time in the Granite State.
“New Hampshire is lovely this time of year,” said Cruz. That got a big laugh.