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Cruz Takes Center Stage, Drawing Cheers And Jeers


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Let's talk this morning about the fight for the future of the Republican Party. Let's begin with Texas Senator Ted Cruz. It was Cruz who led the fight against Obamacare that resulted in a partial government shutdown. He alienated colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and also won widespread praise from Tea Party Republicans.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn has this profile.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Fresh from his battles in Washington, D.C., Senator Ted Cruz is glad to be back in Texas.

SENATOR TED CRUZ, REPUBLICAN, TEXAS: I'm, right now, driving on I-10 from Houston out to San Antonio, then headed to Austin after that. So it's been a month since I've been back home.

GOODWYN: For the last three weeks, Ted Cruz has been the face of the Republican Party's opposition to Obamacare. The day the federal government shutdown ended, Senator Cruz claimed victory. But when one counts up the political concessions that were wrestled from President Obama and the Democrats, Cruz knows it was not a win.

TEXAS: Well, the outcome was a lousy deal. But everyone who stood up and called on Washington to do the right thing should be encouraged by what was accomplished. And listen, we always knew that taking on the Washington establishment was not going to be easy, that the establishment was going to push back. They were going to fight. Trying to change Washington, trying to turn the country around is not a rifle-shot task.

GOODWYN: The original Tea Party plan was for Congressional Republicans to shut down the government in the name of blocking Obamacare. In reaction, the American people would rise up in support, because America hates Obamacare, too. That, in turn, would leave President Obama and the Democrats little choice but to capitulate. But that's not how it played out. The first major glitch was that American citizens didn't rise up in mass against Obamacare. Instead, they tended to be annoyed with the government shutdown. And the president and the Democrats barely gave an inch. And then the GOP was stuck.

In fairness, there were plenty of Republican politicians warning Senator Cruz and his allies in the House that this was precisely what was going to happen, that theirs was a lousy game plan and a misreading of the political lay of the land. But Cruz sees the poor outcome not as a failure of strategy, but of resolve.

TEXAS: Senate Republicans came in like an Air Force bombing their own troops. And once that happened, that fundamentally sabotaged the ability of the effort to succeed.

GOODWYN: Cruz is positioning himself firmly to the right of most of his Republican colleagues in the Senate. They are the sellouts, the compromisers, while he's fighting the good fight. By claiming the moral high ground, Cruz is giving more moderate Republicans a little taste of what Democrats are sometimes made to feel politically, that they're not much to look at. And the GOP establishment is not loving Cruz back, either.

JOHN FEEHERY: Well, it depends on what he wants to do with his life. You know, if he wants to be a long-term Senator who actually gets things done, alienating every single other person in both bodies is not a way to do it.

GOODWYN: John Feehery is a well-known Republican political strategist in Washington who was a top aide to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

FEEHERY: But if he wants to be, you know, a talk show host or go the way of Sarah Palin, you know, he's going the right way. I mean, he's going to have a passionate following, people who listen to talk radio shows and people who like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. But if he wants to actually get stuff done, this is no way to do it.

GOODWYN: Feehery says that a legislator without political allies is useless, and that there's no worse fate in Washington, D.C. than to be considered of no use. But even if you don't agree with or even like Ted Cruz, it's impossible to deny that his very brief tenure in Washington, D.C. has been remarkable.

Ross Ramsey is the executive editor of the online political newspaper, The Texas Tribune. Ramsey says he's watched with amazement this inexperienced unknown take over Capitol Hill.

ROSS RAMSEY: He's dominated the argument. He's dominated this last discussion over the shutdown. He's stepped in front of a bunch of people who have demonstrated great ability to get in front of the cameras, and he's just shoved them out of the way and jumped in. I'm a little surprised at his ability to command the microphone.

GOODWYN: If you think in the aftermath of the shutdown mess, conservative politicians are now running away from the freshman Senator as fast as they can, think again. Ramsey says that - in Texas, at least - Republican candidates for office are doing everything they can to sound just like Ted Cruz, including the state's lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, who used to consider himself a thoughtful, mainstream Republican. But Ramsey says that was before Dewhurst got crushed in the primary by Cruz when both ran for the U.S. Senate last year.

RAMSEY: This is playing pretty well in Texas. All of the Republicans in Texas in the House and the Senate voted with him. If you watch the candidates that are forming up for the March 4th primaries in Texas on the Republican side, they're all sort of sounding, you know, notes that you might hear from a Cruz campaign. That same David Dewhurst that Cruz defeated last year is this year, just this week, calling for the impeachment of the president over Benghazi.

GOODWYN: Ask Tea Party Republicans who'd they most likely to see as the next president of the United States, and many will tell you the man who stands up for what he believes, no matter the consequences: Ted Cruz. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.