Texas Senator Ted Cruz handled the biggest moment of his campaign for president thus far with humor and aplomb. Facing increased pressure over his Canadian birth and a misreported personal loan he took from Goldman Sachs in order to fund his 2012 Senate campaign, Cruz cracked wise about making Donald Trump his vice president, ran Marco Rubio around in circles with his tax plan and escaped the GOP's sixth debate of the 2016 cycle unscathed, save for one body shot from Trump about Cruz's repeated invocation of the term "New York values."
No part of what made Cruz's performance so positive had anything to do with policy. That isn't what's being talked about at these GOP debates. Seven candidates variously galloped or straggled onto the stage Thursday, just 18 days before 2016's first nominating contest in Iowa. With that size field, saying anything even remotely memorable, much less substantive, is unlikely. Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush try, but one's hard pressed to recall anything they said less than 24 hours after the debate. Cruz gets it, as does Trump, and they managed to pair off multiple times for extended bouts with each other, to the exclusion of everyone else on stage.
Heading into Thursday night, you might have expected the Goldman Sachs loan to be a big deal for Cruz. Part of the mystique that Cruz has built around himself is called into question by the loan. Cruz has often said that he and wife Heidi — an executive at the bank — liquidated everything they had to push Cruz into his Senate seat. As it turns out, that isn't really what happened, Cruz admitted Thursday. The money he used to fend off attacks from his primary opponent David Dewhurst came from a low-interest loan against the couple's assets, rather than those assets themselves. It's the type of thing that might sink a candidate who was catering to more sophisticated voters — the idea that the iconoclastic Cruz is not who he says he is, but just another guy taking a lot of money from a giant bank that employs his wife. Those aren't Cruz's voters, though, and he knows it.
Cruz parried the story about the loan by making it about the publication that first reported it, The New York Times, and calling it a simple reporting error. Neither the Fox Business Channel moderators hosting the debate or the six other guys on stage pressed him on the issue, and the loan story seems likely to whither and die at this point. As for the birther controversy Cruz inexplicably faces, that might have a bit more legs.
The senator was asked about it early in the debate and responded to it in the same way he's always responded. In Cruz's opinion, and the opinion of his campaign and advisers, the matter is settled law. Cruz was born a U.S. citizen — his mom, despite living in Calgary, Alberta, was a U.S. national — and that means he fulfills the Constitutional requirement that only "natural-born" citizens may be president. He invoked the children of military members born abroad, saying that it would be absurd to suggest they couldn't run for president. Trump continued to say that he believed Cruz was eligible, he just didn't think it would be good for the party were Cruz to get caught up in a lengthy legal battle. Cruz — with perhaps his best line of the night — said he'd be happy to make Trump his running mate so the real estate mogul could ascend to the presidency should Cruz lose a legal challenge.
Cruz was, as his campaign has been, disciplined and in control. He's got one debate left before the February 1 Iowa caucuses, where he's locked in a tight battle with Trump at the top of the polls. One more performance like Thursday night, and he'll be in pretty good shape.