Cruz is all too happy to wear the title of least-liked man in Washington. He argues to his growing number of supporters that he's stopping Washington from ruining their lives -- and upsetting those greedy lawmakers in the process.
As a byproduct, Cruz has very few policy successes to show for his stands against the establishment. At the most, he's been able to halt something he doesn't like for a little while. But Cruz has indeed gained a lot politically. In his few short years in the Senate, Cruz has defined himself as the anti-Washington guy in Washington, which amounted to prescient timing as he runs for president largely by pitching himself as an outsider in an Republican primary that is shaping up to be very kind to outsiders.
And wouldn't you know, Cruz is starting to rise at about the right time. He's now in first place in the all-important first-in-the-nation nominating contest of Iowa.
As he gets more attention nationally, expect both Cruz and his detractors to go more in-depth about the senator's controversial attempts to jam up the Senate, often in grand fashion. So we thought we'd get out ahead and highlight five notable times Cruz took a stand against the Republican establishment. He didn't always win by traditional definitions, but you could argue that by his standing in the presidential race right now, he personally racked up a series of political wins.
2012: Cruz vs. the Texas establishment
To know Cruz's fearlessness of taking on the establishment, we have to go back to his bid for his state's open Senate seat in 2012.
In the Republican primary (the race that often truly matters in such a red state), Cruz went up against the very definition of the GOP establishment. The former Texas solicitor general was challenging David Dewhurst, at the time the lieutenant governor of Texas who had the support of nearly every major Texas Republican, including then-Gov. Rick Perry.
How it turned out for Cruz: With his fiery rhetoric and tea party support -- former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin came to campaign for him -- Cruz turned Dewhurst's decades-long record in office and personal wealth into a liability, detailed Texas Tribune's Aman Batheja. In a runoff, Cruz beat Dewhurst by 14 points.
He went to work in Washington -- and against Washington -- in January 2013.
Once in the Senate, Cruz wasted little time going after "the Washington cartel" -- no matter if it antagonized his colleagues and supposed allies. Cruz saw his opening less than a year after winning his primary, when lawmakers were trying to sew up a year-end spending bill to keep the government open.
Along with allied Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Cruz launched a full-scale attack against president's health-care reform law, known as Obamacare, which congressional Democrats passed in 2010.
To stall budget negotiations, Cruz gave a 21-hour speech -- dubbed by some as a filibuster -- on the Senate floor, promising to speak against the law "until I am no longer able to stand.” At one point, he read "Green Eggs and Ham" as a bedtime story to his daughters back home.
Many of his Republican colleagues were not impressed. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) called it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard" at the time. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) accused Cruz on the Senate floor of turning his antics "into a show, possibly" -- sharp words for the decorum-abiding Senate.
How it turned out for Cruz: His tired-looking face led nearly every cable news show the next morning. A few days later, the government shut down, which at least temporarily appeared to damage the Republican Party's brand.
The government reopened 16 days after with a deal that did not include defunding Obamacare, as Cruz had wanted. The health-care law's problems dominated the news for the next several weeks. By the 2014 election, Republicans made historic gains.
Another year, another spending bill Cruz rallied against. In December 2014, Senate Republicans and Democrats were close to an agreement on a $1 trillion spending plan.
But Cruz surprised his own colleagues by making an 11th-hour stand against the bill, demanding a vote to block another of Obama's initiatives: His immigration plan.
It was a Friday night, and the spending bill vote was scheduled for Monday. Senate leaders had already gone home; some were on trains and planes back to their districts for the weekend when Cruz took to the Senate floor and demanded lawmakers go on-record for or against Obama's executive actions to defer deportation of some 5 million undocumented immigrants.
Once again, his colleagues were not impressed.
Everyone had to turn back around. Cruz forced the Senate into a Saturday session. Senators on both sides argued Cruz ended up giving then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) more time to push through the president's judicial and executive nominees.
"I don’t see an end goal other than just irritating a lot of people," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).
How it turned out for Cruz: There ended up being no shutdown over immigration, and Cruz apologized the following week to his colleagues for messing up their schedule, but not for calling for the vote or its impact.
Obama's immigration plans are currently tied up in court, thanks to a lawsuit led by officials in Cruz's home state of Texas.
Another year, another spending bill showdown. (Sensing a pattern here?) This time around, the Senate was voting on a short-term spending bill in September to keep the government funded while party leaders negotiated a longer one.
At issue was the funding of women's health-care nonprofit Planned Parenthood, which was facing conservative ire after an anti-abortion group released videos of Planned Parenthood officials talking in cavalier tones about the procurement of fetal tissue for medical research. (Planned Parenthood officials apologized for their tone but maintain they did nothing wrong.) The whole debate threatened to shut down the government until Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) suddenly announced his retirement.
Amid all this, the Senate moved the ball forward on the short-term spending bill by voting one September evening to end debate on it. Afterward, Cruz stood up and asked for a vote on a short-term bill that defunded Planned Parenthood.
Even though he knew -- and his colleagues knew -- it would be a symbolic vote, Republican leaders didn't heed his request. Not allowing him to have his vote was, in the arcane world of the Senate, a pretty stern rebuke. Senators of the majority party are usually granted votes on measures like that one, if only so they can show their constituents back home that they tried.
How it turned out for Cruz: The snub played into Cruz's hands. An irate Cruz gave an hour-long speech, accusing Republican colleagues of sucking up to donors, that conservative blogs featured prominently.
"I will give President Obama and the Senate Democrats credit,” said Cruz. “They are willing to crawl over broken glass with a knife between their teeth to fight for [their] principles. Unfortunately, leadership on my side of the aisle does not demonstrate the same commitment.”
2015: The Export-Import Bank
Senate Republicans' growing animosity with Cruz might have had something to do with a showdown earlier this summer over an obscure government agency that helps fund risky U.S. investment abroad, the Export-Import Bank.
The bank had become the latest split between movement conservatives, who want the Depression-era agency closed, and pro-business Republicans, who wanted to see it open.
Conservatives had prevailed in June when Congress let the bank's charter expire, stopping it from making any new deals.
"What we just saw today was an absolute demonstration that not only what he told every Republican senator, but what he told the press over and over and over again was a simple lie," Cruz said."We now know that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment, that he is willing to say things that he knows are false."
How it turned out for Cruz:Cruz got his way, at least temporarily. The Senate sent the transportation bill to the president, sans any mention of the Export-Import bank.
A few months later, however, Obama signed into law a six-year transportation bill that included the reopening of the bank.