The Ted Cruz Persona

Ted Cruz’s appearance last week on The Tonight Show was generally judged a success. He did very well in defending his record, and his position on controversial issues such as gay marriage, which the audience applauded. Yet there was something slightly unusual about his performance–a habit that Cruz has displayed in other interviews: namely, his reluctance to create a sense of intimacy with the audience.

Cruz is all politics, all the way down. Or so it seems. When asked a personal question, he responds with what sounds like a political answer. That is the opposite of what most politicians do on late-night comedy shows. Most use those as opportunities to reveal something unusual and unexpected about themselves, or to talk about issues in new ways (think Al Gore smashing government ashtrays on Dave Letterman’s desk).

Aside from showing up without a tie, and slouching a bit in his chair, Cruz was as formal with Jay Leno as he is on the Senate floor. That drives the media crazy: not only do they want to peer behind the curtain, but they also want to probe for weaknesses they can exploit later. (It seemed to frustrate the Capitol Hill press corps no end when Cruz declined to express any personal thoughts when the government shutdown ended.)

Cruz’s strategy is both an advantage and a disadvantage. By revealing little, he protects himself from the media (just look what they did to him over Green Eggs and Ham). Yet he loses opportunities to connect with voters, something Obama does expertly–even if some of what he shares is “composite,” or made up. Cruz’s approach is well-suited to opposition, yet he may have to risk more if he wants to aim higher.