On the day last March when Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign, Nate Sliver’s number-crunching FiveThirtyEight blog offered this scientific assessment of his candidacy: “He’s too extreme and too disliked to win.” It was as if the Texas senator’s personal unpopularity were a statistical data point.

From the moment Cruz entered the race, his propensity for rubbing people the wrong way has been part of the media narrative. And we’re not talking about a Mitt Romney-esque likability problem. The 2012 GOP nominee was often depicted as an out-of-touch patrician, but he was seldom seen as a mean-spirited person. The portrait of Cruz that comes through in the press is often one of a truly contemptible individual.

Some examples culled from campaign coverage:

  • "Is Ted Cruz the most popular jerk in America? He very well could be: The brash Texas senator's star is on the rise, with on-again, off-again predictions for domination in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, and yet it's becoming clearer by the day that this is a guy about whom few have nice things to say — if they can even tolerate him at all." (CNN)
  • "Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) may be smart, but he has the lowest emotional intelligence of any person running for president. He simply cannot get people to like him, and the more he tries, the more distaste he generates." (The Washington Post’s Right Turn column)
  • "In the three years since he arrived in the U.S. Senate, Ted Cruz has become easily the most hated man in Washington." (The Atlantic)
  • "Before he became a newly plausible presidential candidate and began terrifying the GOP establishment with the possibility he could win the nomination, Ted Cruz was known as one of the most hated men in Washington. In fact, the junior senator from Texas — rising fast in national polls and poised to win the first-in-the nation Iowa caucuses — has been openly loathed by his colleagues." (U.S. News & World Report)
  • "Almost no one who works with him likes him. They haven’t experienced him as a trustworthy person of good faith." (Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan)
  • "It is hard to predict Cruz's path forward, because it is difficult to think of a major party candidate more hated by his own party, Donald Trump notwithstanding. Past enfant terrible candidates are rarely hated in this way. Ron Paul was treated as a funny curio. Pat Buchanan's revolt was partly mourned, as if he couldn't help it. Trump's has been greeted with consternation and some fear. But Cruz is greeted as a walking, talking outrage. He's treated as an offense in himself." (The Week)

The surprising thing is that Cruz seems to embrace the “unlikable” label; he has repeatedly used it as evidence of his principled — if sometimes unpopular — conservative positions. Here’s how he addressed the topic Wednesday night during a CNN town hall event in South Carolina.

“I’ll tell you why they say Ted is unlikable in Washington — because I’m actually honoring the commitments I made to the men and women who elected me,” Cruz said.

That’s one way to look at it.

Still, it’s totally fair for the media to ask whether Cruz’s abrasiveness would prevent him from accomplishing his agenda as president. That’s really what all these character-based stories are about.

Questions about Cruz’s likability are based on the same premise as those about Donald Trump’s “temperament” — which came up again in a separate town hall event on MSNBC Wednesday night — and those about Bernie Sanders’s brand of democratic socialism. In each case, the press is trying to find out, on behalf of voters, whether the candidate can actually do in office what he talks about on the campaign trail.

Cruz isn’t running for Mr. Congeniality, so his lack of a fan club might not seem terribly important. But if it could get in the way of doing his job as Mr. President, it’s extremely important. That’s why these unflattering reports matter — and why Cruz shouldn’t necessarily wear them as a badge of honor.