Texas Senator Ted Cruz stayed true to his campaign mantra “stand and fight” yesterday as he stood amid a crowd of reporters and vowed to keep pressing to dismantle President Barack Obama’s health-care law.
“This fight, this debate will continue until collectively the American people can make D.C. listen,” said Cruz, as other Republican senators streamed out of a meeting lamenting the political damage wrought by an unwinnable showdown with the White House championed by one of their newest members.
Cruz, 42, is emerging from what Arizona Republican Senator John McCain called a “shameful chapter” in the Senate’s history largely unscathed in the eyes of his donors and Republican activists.
“To the conservative movement in America, he is what courage looks like,” said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which promotes Tea Party-backed candidates who favor smaller government.
Cruz, a lawyer who argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court prior to his 2012 election, is counted among prospective Republican Party presidential contenders in 2016. His take-no-prisoners approach could play well in Iowa, where caucuses typically start the nomination process, said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a former political reporter in Iowa for 30 years.
“He scored a lot of points with the party’s most conservative elements, and those are people who dominate the caucuses,” Yepsen said.
He cautioned that Cruz will need to guard against dangers that come with a high profile. “A meteoric rise like this can be accompanied by a meteoric fall,” Yepsen said.
A Pew Research Center poll released yesterday showed that Cruz’s popularity among Tea Party Republicans has soared to 74 percent from 47 percent in July. Among non-Tea Party Republicans, he is viewed unfavorably by 31 percent -- a 15-percentage-point increase since the summer survey.
A senator for just nine months, Cruz’s attention-grabbing tactics have strained his relations with colleagues in Congress and reliable Republican allies outside of it. On Sept. 24, a week before the government shutdown began on Oct. 1, Cruz started a 21-hour speech on the Senate floor attacking the Affordable Care Act, a tactic the Wall Street Journal editorial page described as the equivalent of charging into “fixed bayonets.”
Tension flared during a closed-door luncheon of Senate Republicans on Oct. 2. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte challenged Cruz to disavow the Senate Conservatives Fund because the group was equating some lawmakers’ procedural votes to support for the health-care law. He refused to do so, according to a Senate aide.
At another meeting of Senate Republicans the following week, McCain asked those who viewed the bid to defund Obamacare as a winning strategy to raise their hands. No one -- including Cruz -- did, according to a senator who was present. Cruz skipped many of the Republican conferences after that.
Last night, shortly before the Senate passed a bipartisan plan to reopen government and raise the debt ceiling, Cruz on the chamber’s floor excoriated many of his party colleagues, saying they “decided to direct their cannon fire at House Republicans” instead of “standing together” to insist on defunding Obamacare.
“This is a terrible deal for the American people,” he said of the fiscal agreement.
Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, was diplomatic yesterday when asked about Cruz and the Senate colleagues who were part of his fight, including Senator Mike Lee of Utah.
“I can only monitor my own conduct, if you will. I came here as a fiscal conservative,” Corker said in an interview. “I’m a substance guy. I’m a policy guy. I’m not the kind of guy to try to capture flashy objects.”
House Republicans who fumed over private strategy meetings between Cruz and like-minded members of that chamber’s caucus have been more forthright.
“He’s the guy who caused this,” said Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who urged the party to avoid including anti-Obamacare provisions in a government funding bill. “He’s the guy who caused the defeat. He’s the guy who was a fraud because he never had a strategy to begin with. If we let him do it again, it’s our fault.
“It’s important to stand together,” King said in an interview. “We do agree on most issues and we would have been fine with this if we didn’t let Cruz hijack the party,”.
While Washington Republicans complain, the party’s grassroots celebrate, and Cruz’s campaign coffers show no signs of suffering: He raised about $1.2 million in the three-month period that ended Sept. 30, a few days after his filibuster. That’s about what he collected in the three months before that.
His donors -- mostly Tea Party backers rather than big businesses -- say they knew what they were getting when they helped propel him to an unexpected victory over Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, the Republican establishment favorite, in Texas’s Senate primary last year. And they’re proud of him.
“I just like a guy who is fighting, who seems like he is going to do everything he said he was going to do,” Dougal Cameron, president and owner of a real-estate development firm in Houston, said in an interview this week. “If that gets him in trouble with the media and others, that’s OK with me.”
Last week, a convention of anti-abortion activists at the Values Voter Summit in Washington chose him as their top pick for president in 2016. The 42 percent of the straw poll votes he captured buried the single digits notched by other Republican presidential prospects, including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Three years before the 2012 presidential campaign, Mike Huckabee won the same straw poll with 28 percent. The former Arkansas governor ended up not running last year.
Referring to Republican leaders in his speech to the summit, Cruz boasted about “going over their heads” to make the case that Washington lawmakers should defund Obamacare.
“Senator Cruz and Senator Lee have been at the forefront of this effort, and they deserve tremendous credit for standing up and making the case,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America, a Washington group that advocates for smaller government.
Heritage held “Defund Obamacare” town halls in nine cities in August. The Senate Conservatives Fund put up a website called dontfundit.com that attracted more than 2 million signatures on a petition against Obamacare. Holler said the effort led by Cruz “would have gone nowhere” without that outcry from Americans.
The Senate Conservatives Fund and another pro-Tea Party group, the Club for Growth, were Cruz’s top financiers last year. Their donors shipped Cruz $1.7 million of his total $14.5 million haul, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. The Club and the Fund, along with their related super-political action committees, also helped Cruz with $7.1 million in outside advertising.
That donor base has helped Cruz resist the outcry of a business community that became irritated about Republicans’ role in the shutdown, Anthony Holm, a Republican strategist based in Austin, Texas, said in an interview this week.
“Ted Cruz doesn’t have to bow down to anybody,” Holm said.