Ted Cruz is fighting a style war with Donald Trump

Roughly 45 minutes before Donald Trump’s campaign would announce on Tuesday that he was skipping Thursday night’s Fox News debate, as always giddily tipping the Republican race into chaos in a yet another pique of strategic petulance (or is it petulant strategy?), Ted Cruz was chugging along as usual, at a rally in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Cruz has a precise, meticulous way of speaking that is as regimented as Trump’s is scattershot and freewheeling. Reporters who have attended multiple Cruz speeches have noted, with a mixture of awe and alarm, how he is able to hit the exact same beats at the exact same points of every speech, at every stop, in a way unusual even for politicians. His stump speech is deceptively artful in its dull science. You listen to him like you listen to an air conditioner hum, always able to imperceptibly move up or down one degree to meet the needs of his audience but never once straying off beat.

It is perfect and unceasing and sort of amazing. The fact that Cruz is a champion debater has been long discussed, but it’s always brought up in the context of actual debates. But his ability to stay singularly focused without wavering is a public speaking skill that doesn’t require others on stage with him. He is, simply, a machine.