Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz had the most to lose appearing before the elite group of journalists known as the Gridiron Club Saturday night. But he gamely appeared in the required dress of white tie and tails, and truth is he didn’t look all that uncomfortable. He joked about how his anti-media speech had gone over so well the previous day at CPAC, the annual gathering of conservatives, and how he made sure to hightail it out of there before they learned about his plans for the following evening.

“The ambiance is different,” he mused, noting with perfect pitch that the Gridiron is “more high brow,” and speaking here “would take some edge off my populist image,” maybe help him “fit in with the smart set.” 

He already had the crowd of some 600 Washington insiders guffawing when he recalled his 21-hour Green Eggs and Ham talkathon last year, “hearing nothing but my favorite sound,” he said. “We’re talking Biden territory here,” he added, an in-the-know reference to the vice president’s loquaciousness. “How this town works, they cut me off right when I was getting to my point,” he exclaimed.

Doing well at the Gridiron is a rite of passage that not everybody survives. “I don’t know where Cruz got his material, it didn’t look like L.A. writers,” Landon Parvin, the GOP’s veteran go-to-guy for humor, tells The Daily Beast. “It looked natural to him.” That’s the highest praise for a politician, and in Cruz’s case that he could bring off two such very different speeches: red meat for the base one day, and the next day, deliver remarks that have the dreaded media elite admiring how he was able to poke fun at himself.

Self-deprecating humor is the key to these speeches, and the search is on in Washington for whoever helped Cruz craft his jokes and helped him with the delivery. Calls and an e-mail to Cruz’s office in Washington were not returned, and there is the possibility of course that Cruz, a Harvard-trained lawyer with a super-duper high IQ, wrote his speech himself. He is not short on self-confidence, noting that he’s been called a “pompous condescending know-it-all… At Harvard Law School, they even have a word for it—alumni.”

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