WASHINGTON — Ted Cruz sure knows how to make a first impression. No freshman in U.S. Senate history has kicked up quite so much dust or proved so polarizing.
He’s established himself as a formidable adversary to Democrats and to leaders of his own party. Through force of intellect and stamina, he brought the Senate and then the federal government to a standstill.
He ends his maiden year in the Senate beloved and shunned. He is unrepentant about tactics that have alienated colleagues and, if anything, emboldened to keep prodding Republicans ever rightward — and away from timid incrementalism.
“To some extent, involuntarily and often kicking and screaming, D.C. has been forced to listen to the American people,” he said during an hourlong interview in his Senate office. “The biggest thing I have learned is the incredible power of the grass roots — the ability of the American people to change the way business is done in Washington.”
For Cruz, a 43-year-old who is impatient with the old order, that has meant taking an unconventional approach.
Shaking up Washington requires finding its pressure points, and for elected officials, pressure comes from constituents. So instead of focusing on backroom deal-making or waiting for seniority to accrue, Cruz has devoted his energy to rallying the public, leveraging grassroots passion.
He all but sneers at leaders in his own party, who recently unleashed months of pent-up frustration with tea partiers.
House Speaker John Boehner cut a budget deal with Democrats that left that faction isolated, proclaiming he doesn’t care what tea party leaders want anymore. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, facing a stiff tea party challenge in the Kentucky primary, called the Senate Conservatives Fund — a group closely allied with Cruz — a bully that deserves a punch in the nose.
“The Washington establishment does not like change,” Cruz said, “and no one should be surprised when the Washington establishment pushes back hard against changing the culture in Congress that has led to out-of-control spending, debt and taxes.”
While Republicans have a strong chance to regain the Senate majority in 2014 elections, he added, “The easiest way the Republican Party can mess it up in 2014 is if the party bosses focus more on attacking conservatives, on attacking the tea party, than on making the case to the American people [that] there is a better way than the Obama economic agenda.”
Applied to McConnell, “party boss” isn’t a term of endearment.
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