Me & Ted

Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas), speaks during the family leadership summit in Ames, Iowa Saturday Aug. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Justin Hayworth)
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You may have noticed I don’t particularly like Ted Cruz. That’s not because of his politics, which probably obviously I disagree with in almost every particular. It’s him. I’ve wanted to do a post about this because it turns out Ted and I have a history, though one I didn’t even know about (or perhaps remember) until after he was elected.

Last year, I heard there was a Tea Party guy running for Senate in Texas named Ted Cruz. I didn’t think a lot about it (since it wasn’t a competitive race in the general) or have any sense I had any connection to him. But then after he was elected I started noticing and thinking, wow, this guy seems like a royal jerk.

And at some point my wife said, “You don’t remember?”

Well, it turns out Ted and I went to college together. And not just we happened to be at the same place at the same time. We were both at a pretty small part of a relatively small university. We both went to Princeton. I was one year ahead of him. But we were both in the same residential college, which basically meant a small cluster of dorms of freshmen and sophomores numbering four or five hundred students who all ate in the same dining hall.

My wife meanwhile was also in the same residential college and she was actually Ted’s year – Class of 92. [In case you’re wondering, no, my wife and I haven’t been together for 25 years. We knew each other in college but only got together as a couple a dozen years later.] She totally remembered Ted and basically as a conceited and fairly nerdy jerk.

But the weird thing was I didn’t remember him. And the context here is that I have a really good memory. If we meet after twenty years, I’m far more likely to remember you than vice versa and I’ll probably remember little details about you too. I don’t forget a lot of stuff, especially people. But I didn’t remember the name or the guy I was seeing on TV.

As it turned out, though, almost everyone I knew well in college remembered him really well. Vividly. And I knew a number of his friends. But for whatever reason I just didn’t remember him. When I saw college pictures of him, I thought okay, yeah, I remember that guy but sort of in the way where you’re not 100% sure you’re not manufacturing the recollection.

I was curious. Was this just my wife who tends to be a get-along and go-along kind of person? So I started getting in touch with a lot of old friends and asking whether they remembered Ted. It was an experience really unlike I’ve ever had. Everybody I talked to – men and women, cool kids and nerds, conservative and liberal – started the conversation pretty much the same.

“Ted? Oh yeah, immense a*#hole.” Sometimes “total raging a#%hole.” Sometimes other variations on the theme. But you get the idea. Very common reaction.

But that wasn’t all. Before retelling this or that anecdote, there was one other thing that everybody said, “A really, really smart dude.”

Among other things, it was a mystery to me how and why this guy had made such a strong impression on so many people but I’d just missed or forgotten him. Here’s a story about Ted’s college years from last month in the DailyBeast. I remember the name and face of every other student mentioned. But not Ted. Maybe that’s because I spent a lot of my sophomore year in kind of a fog. But it didn’t stop me from getting to know lots of other people who arrived that year – like my future wife, for instance.

Here’s the gist from that DB story

In addition to Mazin and Leitch, several fellow classmates who asked that their names not be used described the young Cruz with words like “abrasive,” “intense,” “strident,” “crank,” and “arrogant.” Four independently offered the word “creepy,” with some pointing to Cruz’s habit of donning a paisley bathrobe and walking to the opposite end of their dorm’s hallway where the female students lived.

While Cruz may have been disliked, and intensely so, by many of his classmates, he found a close and longtime friend in a gregarious, popular student from Jamaica named David Panton, who became Cruz’s tag-team partner on Princeton’s renowned debate squad, as well as his roommate for the remainder of their time at Princeton and when they both attended Harvard Law School.

But there’s more to the story. Because my wife didn’t just go to college with Ted. She also went to law school with him. They were both in the same class at Harvard Law School. And it was actually from Harvard where she seemed to have the strongest and most negative memories of him. So I started asking Harvard classmates about him too. Same stories. Let’s call it AASS. A#$hole, Arrogant, Super Smart.

The stories, well … the stories. One of the best was one I heard early this year from a number of people. Here’s the version I heard from an email back in February.

My friend [redacted] went to Harvard Law with Ted. [He] says that Ted shocked people when during the first week, he announced that he was creating a study group and only people with high GPAs from the Big Three Ivies could apply for admission. In short, Ted managed to come off as a pompous asshole at Harvard Law.

As my correspondent notes, Ted managed to distinguish himself as a arrogant a#@hole at Harvard Law School, which is an amazing accomplishment since the competition there for that description is intense. This is the story Jason Zengerle managed to confirm for his new article in GQ. And I’m glad he did. I’ve been wondering about how much of this to report out myself. But I felt like I had kind of a conflict of interest or maybe unfair advantage knowing so many of the people first hand.

At each stage, Ted did seem to collect a quite small but core group of friends/followers, mainly people who were deeply in tune with his politics (he was as rightwing on day one at college as he is today) and who took what most found to be his assholery as a form of take-no-prisoners conservative badassdom. Indeed, if you think this is an issue of whom I talked to, just like-minded people maybe, consider this: It perfectly mirrors what’s happened over the last year in the Senate. Cruz has a small handful of followers in the Senate; but basically everyone else in his Republican caucus despises him.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Ted was a big, big deal in the hyper-competitive and – c’mon – somewhat ridiculous world of college debate. So again … let’s not even belabor it. “Ted?” “Unbelievable A#*hole.”

Over the last few months I did some poking around too in Ted’s last past his late 20s. Unlike his college and law school years when I had tons of mutual acquaintances I could go to, here I had fewer. But the gist was the same.

And this is why I’ve been saying since Ted Cruz replaced Michele Bachmann as the King of the Tea Partiers that the reaction to Cruz in the senate is simply the reaction Ted’s gotten at least at every stage of his life since he arrived at college in 1988. An incredibly bright guy who’s an arrogant jerk who basically everybody ends up hating.

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