Sen. Ted Cruz wrote the jokes about Sen. Mitch McConnell himself.
Noting that Secretary of State John Kerry had arrived at the annual winter dinner of the Gridiron Club in white-tie and tails as the official representative for President Barack Obama, the similarly attired Cruz told the equally-tailed audience:
“In case anyone’s wondering, I’m here officially representing Mitch McConnell. He asked me himself. And when Leader McConnell wants something, who am I to say no?”
This was only one of many laugh-lines delivered with a graceful humor for which the master of no-compromise political warfare in Washington is perhaps less-known. The Republican senator from Texas who addressed the Gridiron Saturday night was working from a script which was, by all inside accounts, a true team effort.
The senator who laced his all-night Obamacare-bashing stand on the Senate floor last fall with a mention of “Green Eggs and Ham” allowed that, “Okay, for a lot of people, maybe I ruined Dr. Seuss forever.”
And if there’s one thing he has learned after 14 months in Washington, he said, “I guess the hard lesson is that charm can get you only so far.”
“We did get a fair number of jokes sent our way, which isn’t unusual,” Cruz speechwriter Amanda Carpenter tells us at Political Capital. “We have a standing rule in the office that everyone is encouraged to come up with creative and funny messaging ideas and lines for speeches…”
“We’re always on the look-out for new jokes, and he reads them all.”
Like this one, delivered at the Renaissance Hotel, where Cruz shared the head table with Kerry and others.
“ What a treat it must be for him to share the dais with one of only three senators who voted against his nomination to be secretary of state,” Cruz said of Kerry. “Now, with the man sitting right here, looking so pleasant and distinguished, I could make all kinds of excuses. You know, like, I actually voted for the nomination before I voted against it.”
Cruz graciously suffered a few slings from the other side.
“Ted Cruz,” Kerry said in his turn at the microphone, “it’s got to be a great feeling to be in a roomful of people who are laughing with you.”
Cruz, a college debating champ, apparently didn’t require much rehearsal for the 13 minutes he spent on stage at the Gridiron. He went into the office Saturday afternoon to “put finishing touches” on the lines and run through it with his staff, according to press secretary Catherine Frazier
“He really didn’t have time to practice much before Gridiron,” Carpenter said of a boss who has “a natural sense of timing and delivery… Thankfully, he’s a quick study.”
Cruz and his wife, Heidi, also stayed around for the post-dinner festivities until nearly 1 am and then caught the first flight out of town five hours later to be with their girls, Frazier notes.
“A handful of folks on staff and friends on the outside” offered suggestions for the senator’s stand-up routine, she says. “The senator had a big role in editing and adding jokes — he really likes impressions, the McConnell and Princess Bride lines were both his.”
“I’ve been watching the second season of `House of Cards,’ Cruz told the audience at Gridiron. “It’s very realistic, very life-like. But I was a little worried when I got a late-night call from Mitch McConnell. He said, `Uh, Ted, why don’t you meet me at the metro station.’
“Then there was a tense encounter I had with Dianne Feinstein. I was accused of acting like some pompous, condescending know-it-all. We’re all familiar with the type, and at Harvard Law School there is even a word for it: alumni.”
“Senator Feinstein said I talked to her like she was a sixth-grader,” Cruz said. “But fortunately, I was able to patch that up with one thoughtful gift: her very own Ted Cruz coloring book.”
The Canada-born American turning in his Canadian citizenship as another presidential election season rolls around, offered some indirect sympathy for Obama’s experiences with the “birthers.”
“Nobody in this town knows how it feels to have your American citizenship called into question,” Cruz said. “Canadians are so polite, mild-mannered, modest, unassuming, open-minded. Thank God my family fled that oppressive influence before it could change me.”
“I might add that Canadians are also extremely efficient. No red tape at all in handling my application to renounce citizenship. They had that thing approved before I even sent it in.”
“The simple truth is that for a very brief time my family lived on the plains of Calgary,” Cruz said. “That does not make me a Canadian. Although Elizabeth Warren says that it does make me an Algonquin Indian.”