On a break during a business trip to Washington last year, David Panton hailed a cab to take him to the Capitol. He told the driver he was going to see the Texas senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
Cruz and Panton on the Campaign
“He’s racist,” the cabdriver replied, according to Mr. Panton.
Mr. Panton, taken aback, informed his driver that Mr. Cruz had a bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the right side of his desk, that he was the only senator to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela and that he had a “black guy” as a college roommate and best man at his wedding.
“I don’t believe that,” the cabby said, as Mr. Panton tells it.
“Well,” Mr. Panton replied, “you’re talking to him.”
Everyone seems to have an opinion of Mr. Cruz, and usually it is not a good one. He has repeatedly come under attack from Donald J. Trump and other rivals as being eminently unlikable, having antagonized even members of his own party. Hillary Clinton joined that chorus this month when she described Mr. Cruz as a “mean spirited guy.” The New York primary last week, in which he finished a distant third, may have been the low point in his decades-long struggle with popularity.
Mr. Panton and Mr. Cruz at Princeton University in 1992.
DAEDRE LEVINE
But through it all, he could depend on Mr. Panton — his former roommate, debate teammate, business partner and political booster — as a source of unconditional support, the guy who extends a hand when the whole world seems to offer a stiff-arm. “The media has caricatured Ted as this one-dimensional, hard-core guy,” Mr. Panton, 44, said with some irritation in an interview during his business trip to Washington last fall. “Ted is principled, but he is actually a good guy and was a great friend to me.”
Their friendship dates back to their freshman year at Princeton. Indeed, college contemporaries considered Mr. Panton, a native of Jamaica, to be the more likely of the two to run a nation. But he become better known back home for ill-fated romances with beauty queens than for his leadership qualities.
At first, Mr. Cruz’s freshman roommate at Princeton was Craig Mazin, a screenwriter who has provided a stream of often-quoted insults about the candidate’s personality. (“He wrote ‘The Hangover III,’” Mr. Panton said archly of Mr. Mazin.) more