Just like that, Cruz summed up his first seven months as a U.S. senator and exposed the conundrum he represents for the Republican Party: a hero to the conservative base and a worry for the establishment.
Cruz, 42, is a full-bore conservative from Texas whose certitude and combativeness in defense of his positions have made him a rock star to the GOP’s far-right-leaning activists. The comment that brought the crowd to it feet was about shredding Obamacare at all costs.
But that certitude and combativeness also have made him one of the most controversial figures in the Senate, a lightning rod for public and private criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. The question many are left to ponder as Cruz travels the country targeting President Obama’s health-care law is: What can he realistically hope to achieve in a Senate steeped in tradition and hierarchy as an eloquent yet sharply polarizing figure?
The question is increasingly important, as Cruz is frequently mentioned as a 2016 presidential contender. This week, he released his birth certificate amid questions from some who doubt whether he is eligible to be president because he was born in Canada. But Cruz makes the point that he was a U.S. citizen at birth (his mother was an American born in Delaware), and he promised Monday to renounce whatever right he has to Canadian citizenship.
The 2016 speculation has also been driven by the amount of time Cruz has been spending in early presidential nominating states such as Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire. He has made two trips to Iowa this year and plans to visit again in October. On Friday, he will be in New Hampshire to headline a fundraiser held by the state GOP.
But he cautions that not too much should be read into those travels. “In my view, it is way too soon for anyone to be focused on the 2016 presidential election,” he said. Cruz insists that his focus is “100 percent” on the Senate, but that is proving a trickier play.
Not a ‘social club’
“wacko bird” and “over the line” are some of the words Cruz’s Senate colleagues have used to describe him publicly. He has shown none of the traditional deference that junior senators often adopt when dealing with their more senior colleagues.
In one encounter, Cruz tangled with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a longtime gun-control advocate, during a Judiciary Committee hearing in March. A staunch defender of gun rights, Cruz peppered Feinstein with questions about the Constitution until, in exasperation, she replied: “I’m not a sixth-grader. Senator, I’ve been on this committee for 20 years.” That confrontational approach has not endeared him to many in the Senate, but Cruz said he will not shy away from defending his principles. “I like and respect my colleagues, but the Senate isn’t a social club,” he said.