When Trudeau met Cruz: How Canada's PM once debated the Iowa caucus winner

Here's a lesser-known connection between the winner of this year's first U.S. presidential contest and the home and native land of his birth: Canada's prime minister recalls debating Ted Cruz.

Calgary-born, Texas-bred senator was once ranked the top debater in the U.S.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz once squared off in a debate tournament while both leaders were in university. (Canadian Press)

Here's a lesser-known connection between the winner of this year's first U.S. presidential contest and the home and native land of his birth: Canada's prime minister recalls debating Ted Cruz.

The Calgary-born, Texas-bred senator who stormed out of the gate Monday with a win in Iowa's Republican caucuses was once a stellar university debater, ranked No. 1 in the U.S.

Cruz's opponents included a contemporary from Montreal — a prime minister's son and prime-minister-to-be who decided to get involved with the debate club at the urging of friends at McGill University.

Justin Trudeau first publicly referred to that old encounter during a speech early last year when he was still leader of Canada's third party, and the senator had yet to announce his presidential bid.

Trudeau told a group of fellow McGill alumni that he'd dabbled in debating and had once gone up against Cruz in a tournament at Yale, adding dryly: "He hasn't changed very much."

He elaborated slightly in an interview with The Canadian Press last June. By then, Cruz had announced his presidential bid but Trudeau was still in opposition.

While the details are a bit hazy, Trudeau recalls an opponent who came prepared to dominate — and, apparently, Cruz did.

''If I recall correctly it was about an obscure monetary policy element that he had done an awful lot of research on," Trudeau said in that pre-election interview.

"His poor opposition had no real capacity to rebut. It was a focus very much on winning the debate, rather than on any sort of fair chance to have a good and robust debate. But that's the way university debating was played at that particular moment.''

Cruz also squared off against top Obama aide

If Trudeau lost to Cruz, he wasn't alone.

Before embarking on a law career where he argued nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, Cruz was the star of Princeton's legendary debate team. He was not only the 1992 U.S. college debater of the year, but his team was also ranked No. 1. 

A New York Times profile describes an aggressive debating style that occasionally grated on judges, but ultimately earned Cruz numerous victories still commemorated on a plaque at Princeton.

Alas, visual evidence of that Cruz-Trudeau encounter appears lost to history.

When asked, neither Trudeau, his McGill friend Gerald Butts nor the debate clubs at Yale, McGill, and Princeton have video of that clash between future political heavyweights.

In his autobiography, Cruz described how his obsession with debating temporarily hurt his grades. He exasperated his teammate-and-roommate, forcing him to spend hours analyzing minute details of each contest.

They'd get home at midnight from a tournament and then: "I insisted that David (Panton) and I go up to our room, sit down, and assess our performance so we could learn from our mistakes," Cruz writes in "A Time For Truth."

U.S. President Barack Obama's economic aide Austan Goolsbee also squared off against Senator Ted Cruz in debates, one of the Republican frontrunners for president. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

"We learned from these discussions, which would extend till three or four in the morning, which would often prompt David to protest, 'Enough already! This is madness.' But the madness paid off."

An ex-aide to President Barack Obama concurs: Cruz was tough competition.

"He was at Princeton, I was at Yale. So we used to debate pretty much every week," Obama's ex-economic adviser Austan Goolsbee told Fox last week.

"He's a very, very good debater. Now the world knows that."

After watching the Texas firebrand in a Republican presidential debate last month, Butts sent a nod to Goolsbee via tweet: "Cruz's debating style is exactly the same as it was 25 years ago."


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