Imagine a drama kid—without good looks, singing or dancing ability, who wants to be president, is pretty sure your opinions suck, and thinks you’re an idiot. You just imagined a college parliamentary debater. And who do college parliamentary debaters think are irritating, pitiful jagoffs? In the 1990s, it was Ted Cruz.

When not tooling around the Princeton dorm in his Hefneresque bathrobe, Cruz—captured in the pic above by fellow debater Daedre Levine—fancied himself so much that even his colleagues on the university debate circuit thought he was a self-serving dickbag.

That’s according to a new profile by the New York Times’ Jason Horowitz, who recounts how Cruz was a good debater whose skills were overshadowed by a lack of shame, self-awareness, and reliable knowledge about female anatomy: the upper echelon of a rollicking debating world that exalted extemporaneous thinking, where topics ranged from the concrete to the absurd, and where facts and moral assessments took a back seat to quick thinking and wit, Mr. Cruz had a different reputation.

Regarded as a powerful speaker who depended on overly prepared, or “canned,” cases, Mr. Cruz could be foiled with humor. His emotional zeal, no matter which side he was arguing, rubbed more experienced judges the wrong way. So did his stilted speaking style and standoffishness on the debate world’s vibrant social scene, where kegs flowed at Friday night parties. His raw ambition sometimes soured the student judges, as well as the audiences who voted in championship rounds, on him.

Deeper into the profile, we learn:

1. That Cruz once blew a national tournament by confidently letting his Harvard opponents choose whether he should argue pro or con. The other team ran down Cruz’s speaking time pretending to fumble for a coin to flip, and he lost as the audience “chuckled” at his comeuppance.

2. That Cruz didn’t gel with his first debate team roomie, “a liberal who put Super Glue on Mr. Cruz’s alarm clock snooze button.”

3. That Cruz, when unprepared to debate the finer points of an opponent’s arguments, ignored them. “Ted was not about responding to anything,” a teammate said. “He would reframe the whole debate.”

4. That Cruz used his heritage to argue against women’s equality:

For emotional resonance, Mr. Cruz often invoked his father’s coming to America from Cuba with $100 sewn into his underwear. When an Amherst team argued at a tournament in 1989 that Ricky Ricardo should have let Lucy work, Mr. Cruz said, in an incensed voice: “Well, guess what, I’m Cuban! And no self-respecting Cuban man of the era would let his wife work.”

5. That whiny Cruz regularly got his ass handed to him by debaters like Austan Goolsbee, Barack Obama’s future economic wonk:

Goolsbee and other top debaters on the circuit who frequently beat Mr. Cruz discovered it was easy to get under his skin, especially with humor. “It would unravel him,” Mr. Goolsbee said.

In one round, Mr. Goolsbee pointed out that the story of Mr. Cruz’s father coming to America, as compelling as it sounded, was not entirely relevant to, say, the federal deficit.

“How dare you insult my father!” Mr. Cruz replied.

6. That Cruz hadn’t yet figured out how ladyparts work:

Mr. Cruz’s own attempts at humor sometimes missed the mark. In one debate, he proposed a method to detect infidelity, in which God should “give women a hymen that grows back every time she has intercourse with a different guy, because that will be a ‘visible sign’ of the breach of trust,” according to a recollection by David Kennedy published in a Harvard debate team reunion booklet in 2001.

Mr. Kennedy’s debate partner mocked Mr. Cruz’s knowledge of the subject matter by contorting herself to see how the anatomy in question could be “visible,” according to the booklet.

7. That Cruz yelled at the help, and failed to make friends among the master debaters:

Sometimes Mr. Cruz showed a capacity to laugh at himself. During a break in a tournament at Yale, Mr. Marks recalled, debaters watched as Mr. Cruz argued at a pizza counter over his order before stomping out in a huff. Back at the tournament, the final-round speakers used their speeches to mock Mr. Cruz’s lunchtime antics. But rising from the audience, in his best Nixon impersonation, he declared, “I’m not a crook.”

That flash of self-deprecation was not enough to endear Mr. Cruz to his fellow debaters. When his peers learned of his intention to run for president of the parliamentary debate league, they held a late-night meeting in a hotel to recruit a protest candidate, who eventually won.

8. That Cruz, in his last stab at a championship, got crushed by a team from Australia, because his reputation for dickishness had already circled the world by 1995:

His Australian opponents warned the crowd at Princeton against the rhetorical slickness, but substantive weakness, of what they described as the famous Teflon Team, according to audience members. For a final time, Mr. Cruz lost.

Maybe Cruz should have tried policy debate, a true gentleman’s sport. But then, indulging in obnoxious rhetorical hubris is probably better preparation for Republican leadership than using evidence to argue about policies.

[ Photo credit: Daedre Levine via NY Times]