Speed Reads

republican debate

8 ways Ted Cruz could be the scariest debater on the Republican stage

While Donald Trump and Jeb Bush elbow for their space in the limelight Thursday night, Ted Cruz's Princeton classmates, as well as his former opponents from other schools, warn that it would be remiss to count the former debate champ out just yet. Here are eight ways Cruz could steal the show in Cleveland. Jeva Lange

1. He's sneaky. "Nobody was better at setting traps," said Austan D. Goolsbee, a Yale debater who later became a leading economist for President Obama.

2. He's captivating. "He knew how to hold a room," recalled Stephen Wunker, who was a year ahead of Cruz on the debate team.

3. He's driven. "He seemed to be the presumptive winner," said Ted Niblock, a Johns Hopkins University debater in Cruz's year who now works as the general counsel for a clean energy startup. "This was on top of his frequent tournament victories, which were earned in the most grinding, methodical, joyless way possible. This might be my biggest problem with him: He took all the fun out of it. He prepared and prepared, came to the tournament on the weekend, executed his plan, and then went back to Princeton to take the fun out of something else."

4. He's in his element. "In that environment, he was cool, spectacular, a god," said Raj Vinnakota, a Princeton debater who knew Cruz and who is now the CEO of the SEED Foundation in Washington, D.C.

5. He's an all-star on the stage. "He was Michael Jordan in a game where I mostly sat on the bench," wrote Sacha Zimmerman.

6. He knows how to manipulate emotions. "It's not visual. It's not: Look at me. It's: Listen to me. No, believe me. No, follow me," said Dae Levine, a Columbia debater now working as a communications strategist.

7. He's unnerving. "I remember him as a scary, driven machine who fought a protracted, bloody land war for total victory," Niblock said.

8. He's been doing this forever. He was a "fully-formed political animal" even in college, said Bob Ewing, a Princeton debate team leader.