One of the occupational hazards of being a self-styled pot-stirrer is opponents begin itching to take you on. The video above shows how Ted Cruz reacted to a handful of hecklers last night at a town hall in Dallas.
Two quick observations about Cruz:
First, it’s hard to understand the depth of his appeal to conservative audiences unless you have seen him on the stump. Cruz is a lawyer, and his lawyerly tendencies don’t manifest well in Senate colloquys, where he can come off as sanctimonious and mansplainy. But when he speaks to his kind of crowd, he is polished and in command, as I found when I trailed him to several speeches while reporting a TIME profile on the Texas Senator. (You should subscribe so you can read it!)
He tells jokes. He’s self-deprecating. He does impressions of famous people (including a not-bad Jay Leno). And, of course, he serves up heaps of red meat. Don’t underestimate the degree to which conservatives, who are well aware of Barack Obama’s oratorical talents, crave a rhetorical gladiator of their own. It is—frankly, fundamentally—the only reason Newt Gingrich went as far as he did in the 2012 primary.
Second, while the press pack is treating the birth certificate kerfuffle as a problem for Cruz, it is actually an earned-media coup. Each day the mainstream media speculates breathlessly about his eligibility for the Oval Office, the prospect of Cruz as president—a total longshot—embeds itself into voters’ minds. Cruz knows this. After all, he chose to release the certificate in mid-August, amid the quietest stretch on the political calendar. Then he fed the media circus with follow-up declarations about renouncing his Canadian citizenship, dragging out what could’ve been an evanescent blip in the news cycle. He knows exactly what he is doing.