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Ted Cruz takes center stage at Gridiron dinner



Ted Cruz takes center stage at Gridiron dinner
Todd J. Gillman

Published: 08 March 2014 10:55 PM

WASHINGTON — Lampooned as a political caveman, Sen. Ted Cruz took a star turn Saturday night at the annual Gridiron dinner.

“Since I’ve been thrown out of our Senate lunches, it’s really nice to be invited to dinner,” he said, one of several jokes playing on his status as one of the most despised men in Washington.

He recalled a showdown during a gun debate, when California Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused him of treating her like a sixth-grader.

“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,” he said.

And then there was that overnight anti-Obamacare talkathon: “Twenty-one hours and 19 minutes … hearing nothing but my favorite sound,” Cruz said wistfully.

Cruz has cultivated an “outsider” image somewhat at odds with the annual gathering of the capital’s political and journalism elite — a white tie and tails affair that features satirical songs performed by members of the Fourth Estate.

But with 640 or so Cabinet members, White House aides, diplomats and news media luminaries gathered in their finery, the Gridiron dinner provides a unique opportunity to shape one’s reputation.

Cruz, who shows all the signs of someone planning to run for president, arrived with a reputation as an ambitious, unyielding purist, and a brilliant pot-stirrer. Serving as a featured speaker at the gala offered a chance to hit that head-on.

One year ago, as a freshman with all of two months’ tenure in the Senate, Cruz had already made enough of a splash to merit a joke from President Barack Obama: “If Ted Cruz calls somebody a communist, then you know he’s in my Cabinet.”

Cruz has cemented his place in Washington. He is a force to contend with. Gridiron organizers invited him to represent Republicans at the group’s 129th annual dinner. Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist delivered the Democratic speech, with Secretary of State John Kerry representing the administration.

Cruz ribbed the other VIPs.

On Kerry, he said, “What a treat it must be for him to share the dais with one of only three senators who voted against his nomination.”

He noted that Crist wrote in his memoir that he felt “excluded and unwanted, rejected by the Republican establishment.” Said Cruz, after pausing for effect: “It spoke to me.”

Cruz also joked about his Canadian dual citizenship.

“Frankly,” he said, the first year in Washington has been so rough, “there have been moments when I wanted to self-deport.”

He added: “Canadians are so polite, mild-mannered, modest, unassuming, open-minded. Thank God my family fled that oppressive influence before it could change me.”

The show devoted an entire number to the Texas freshman: “Flintstone Cowboy,” to the tune of “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

I never lost one vote despisin’

Weasel words like “compromisin’”

The best baritone in the ensemble (a ringer from the United States Marine Band) played the senator, costumed in an orange Fred Flintstone outfit with oversized cowboy hat. The lyrics spoofed him as a caveman peddling an agenda sure to doom the GOP.

… And with a load of backward thinkin’

A grand old party buys extinction’

While the name of Cruz goes down in pre-history

Gridiron president Clark Hoyt joked that Cruz only agreed to spend an evening with the liberal media he so despises because the alternative was worse: “Hot yoga with Mitch McConnell” — the Senate Republican leader for whom Cruz has become a near-constant irritant.

The opening skit dramatized the infighting between the GOP old guard and tea party insurgents — depicted as a Downton Abbey wing in top hats and led by Karl Rove, and a Duck Dynasty wing in camouflage led by Rep. Michele Bachmann.

A featured role at the dinner worked for Obama during his brief Senate tenure, and for many other up-and-comers through the decades.

Two years ago, Gov. Rick Perry — dusting himself off from his “oops”-plagued presidential campaign — delivered a virtuoso performance of self-deprecation and wit that went a long way to resurrecting his battered image.

Saturday night’s skits ranged across the partisan and geopolitical landscape.

Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who fled to Moscow after exposing state secrets, was portrayed singing “I’m a Yankee Doodle leaker” dressed as Uncle Sam.

The troupe, including cable news anchors and leading political columnists, depicted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a highway worker, in a send-up of the traffic-as-payback scandal that has imperiled his presidential ambitions.

Another number marveled at Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ survival, despite the bungled rollout of Obamacare: “I’m still standing, though I launched a mess/Holding up the pieces of my job/with no thanks to the press.”

The wits behind the libretto even scrambled to throw in a skit devoted to the late-breaking crisis in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin, in padded Mr. Universe costume, sings a tune from the gay romp La Cage Aux Folles:

I am what I am/I am half czar, half ol’ Joe Stalin. … Crimea is mine/it’s a no-brainer.

For him, there was no rebuttal.

Follow Washington Bureau Chief Todd J. Gillman on Twitter at @toddgillman.


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