Courtesy Matthew Silberman ’17

If you think it takes a national debate champion to assess the performance of another national debate champion, then consider what members of the Princeton Debate Panel had to say about how Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz ’92 fared during the primary season’s debates.

The panel, one of the leading collegiate debating societies in the country, this year became the first team in the history of the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) to win every North American award. At the same time, Cruz — who was ranked the top debater in North America as an undergraduate — was demonstrating those skills to help stand out among the crowded field of GOP candidates. “Ted Cruz understands the [debate] format in a way his opponents do not,” wrote Jeff Greenfield at

It was clear to Bharath Srivatsan ’18, one-half of Princeton’s winning team at the national championships, that the presidential debates didn’t offer the same level of nuance and thoughtfulness that APDA judges value: “There’s much less time to make points, so you jump right to the rhetoric.”

Sinan Ozbay ’19, who won recognition as Speaker of the Year and who partnered with Srivatsan in the nationals, said that once Cruz took the offensive against Donald Trump, “he sparred very well, and his repartee was spot on. I can imagine that this ability to make clever quips at a moment’s notice was something Ted had practice with while on the debate league.”

Ozbay said that in watching the debates, he tried to focus on the way Cruz presented his points and took on his opponents, rather than on the content of the senator’s statements. “Cruz’s rhetoric was more than enough to make me roll my eyes several times a debate,” Ozbay said. 

Of course, just as with any topic, the senator’s speaking abilities were up for debate among members of the team. Nathan Raab ’17, second-place finisher in the national tournament, said Cruz shone most brightly when he was given the chance to speak for an extended period of time. “I think Sen. Cruz was one of the most successful debaters that the team has ever seen, and you see that when he communicates with the public,” Raab said. “He’s always very clear and always has a great analogy or example to offer. All of that comes from studying debate.”