Want to understand Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's approach to politics in just one sentence? Of course you do.
Here's the sentence: "I’m not serving in office because I desperately needed 99 new friends in the U.S. Senate."
The Texas Republican made that blunt statement in an interview with ABC's Jon Karl set to air in its entirety this weekend on "This Week." It's a window into how differently Cruz views himself from virtually anyone who has come into the Senate in the modern age of politics.
Most newly elected senators tend to set blending in as their goal. They don't make speeches on the floor of the Senate for months -- and sometimes even years. They do everything they can to ingratiate themselves to their more senior colleagues, praising fill-in-the-blank-senator for his/her wealth of knowledge about fill-in-the-blank topic. That goes for high-profile freshman senators too. Remember how Hillary Rodham Clinton purposely acted like a backbencher when she first came to the Senate in 2001? Minnesota's Al Franken followed the Clinton low-key-is-the-best-key playbook after he got elected in 2008 following a career spent as a comedian. Ditto Florida's Marco Rubio, who had already become a national conservative hero before he ever served a day in the Senate.
Not so, Cruz. At all. While Cruz insisted he wasn't going to go to Washington to fit in during his 2012 Senate campaign, everyone -- or at least this guy -- assumed he was simply saying the sort of things you say when you fancy yourself a populist outsider. Little did we know that Cruz's rhetoric wasn't lip service -- he meant every word. He has proven time and again over his first nine months in the Senate that he has zero interest in making nice with his colleagues -- Democrat or Republican -- or playing by the traditional rules for a freshman senator. Cruz said it himself: He didn't come to Washington to make friends. And he hasn't.
On the one hand, that approach has won him a large national audience in a very short period of time. (Can you think of another senator -- up to and including Barack Obama -- who had such an impact in his or her first nine months in the Senate?) It's also made him a force to be reckoned with if he decides to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
On the other, it has turned Cruz into a pariah among his colleagues and driven his unfavorable ratings up among everyone who doesn't identify as a conservative Republican. For many people, Cruz is the face of everything they hate about Washington: Pure partisanship and politicking.
The fascinating thing about Cruz is that he doesn't seem to care about all the vitriol directed toward him -- both from the general public and from some of his Republican colleagues. In fact, he seems to thrive on it. Like him or hate him, it's clear Cruz is something the Senate hasn't seen in a very long time -- if ever.