Once reviled by fellow Republicans as a “wacko bird” eager to shut down the US government, Ted Cruz proved with his Iowa win that his arch-conservatism may yet propel him into the White House.
He has spent months seeking to out-maneuver his many rivals.
When he did so Monday night, surging past frontrunner Donald Trump as he rode a wave of enthusiastic support, it appeared to validate — if only for a few fleeting hours before the presidential race resumes — the political positions that have made Cruz such a compelling but controversial figure.
Cruz, who has fought hard to maintain a prominent place for faith in American life, is battling not just for the Republican nomination. He sees himself in a battle for the very soul of the country.
“Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation,” Cruz said in his caucus victory speech.
“We’re seeing conservatives and evangelicals and libertarians and Reagan Democrats all coming together as one, and that terrifies Washington, DC.”
As a US Senate freshman, the 45-year-old Texan — an intellectual proponent of a grassroots movement that has simmered for years under the Republican mainstream — has barely three years under his belt in national politics.
But in the 2016 presidential race, his outsider status has played well with the right-wing base furious with what he derides as the “mushy middle” GOP establishment unwilling to play hardball against US President Barack Obama.
For Democrats, Cruz is a dangerous demagogue they love to hate.
To religious conservatives, he is a patriot, a thinking man’s champion of the common folk sent to Congress — and perhaps to the White House — to disrupt the ways of the go-along-to-get-along establishment and fulfill the principles of smaller government.
He has since become the movement’s North Star, but critics blast him as a poster boy for Washington gridlock.
Cruz, a master orator with a clear sense of mission, has angered elders in both parties for showing little deference to seniority and snatching the spotlight from more experienced political stalwarts.
He insists government has wrecked the economy, infringed on religious liberty, put constitutional rights “under assault,” overtaxed Americans and sought to take away their guns.
In September 2013, his conservative star power soared when he spoke for 21 hours straight to try to block a stopgap spending bill in the lead up to a crippling shutdown the following month.
Many Republicans blasted Cruz for convincing Tea Party adherents in the House of Representatives to shut down government in a doomed quest to defund Obama’s crowning domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
Cruz’s apparent eagerness to gum up the works led an exasperated John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee, to deride Cruz and other Tea Party lawmakers as “wacko birds on the right.”