With the help of the Tea Party, Ted Cruz bucked the establishment in Texas this summer when he knocked a long-term state politician out of the Republican Senate primary, sending a message that the Tea Party is here to stay.
"I think it is absolutely the future," Cruz told "Nightline" anchor Terry Moran. "In 2010, the Tea Party had a lot of protests in the blazing hot sun. In 2011 and 2012, the Tea Party went to work. They rolled up their sleeves. They got involved in the parties. They got involved in campaigns. They started block walking, phone banking.
"In my race, thousands and thousands of Tea Party activists made the difference in the race and it's a fundamental shift. It's getting the Republican Party back to the principles we should have been standing for in the first place," Cruz told Moran.
Cruz, 41, has never held elective office, but with the support of the Tea Party and prominent Republicans such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, he was catapulted to victory this summer in a bitter run-off with Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for a Senate seat left open by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
When he entered the race, Cruz was polling at just single digits, but he forced Dewhurst, who was backed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, into a run-off in July, demonstrating the frustration Texans had towards the establishment.
"There is a sense that the folks who have been in office for a long time, they don't get it. And it is both parties have let us down. Barack Obama is the most radical president we've ever seen but a lot of Republicans have been complicit with the Democrats in growing spending out of control," Cruz told Moran. "I think the voters are saying to both parties, 'Get back to the basic, founding principles of our country -- limited government, free markets, individual liberty,' and I think that's what this movement all across the country is about."
A few blocks from the main convention proceedings in Tampa, hundreds of delegates streamed into a revival style tent Wednesday to lay the groundwork for an even more conservative Republican future, grooming a whole new crop of leaders, like Cruz, who spoke before crowd as he was accompanied by his father.
"The stakes never been higher. Americans are uniting to turn country around," Cruz said.
A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School who attended Princeton University as an undergrad, Cruz served as solicitor general in Texas from 2003 to 2008. Prior to that, Cruz worked for the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department, and he clerked for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, making Cruz the first Latino to clerk for a chief justice.
Cruz is the son of a Cuban immigrant whose story the Texan shared at the convention Tuesday night, even speaking in Spanish, a language in which Cruz is not fluent, to describe his father's determination to achieve the American dream.
"He fled to Texas in 1957, not speaking English, with $100 sewn into his underwear. He washed dishes making 50 cents an hour to pay his way through the University of Texas and to start a small business in the oil and gas industry," Cruz said of his father in a speech at the RNC Tuesday night. "When he came to America, el no tenia nada, pero tenia corazon. He had nothing, but he had heart. A heart for freedom. Thank you, Dad."
Cruz often has been compared to another Cuban American star in Republican politics -- Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who gained popularity in the GOP during his 2010 Tea Party-backed Senate bid. While Cruz and Rubio have gained prominence through the support of the Tea Party, Cruz claimed the future of the movement rests in "the people on the ground, not by those in power clinging to power."
But the Tea Party has received some heat for fiercely refusing to compromise, a notion Cruz called a "false caricature" of a group whose presence is increasing in Congress.
"I am perfectly willing to compromise with Republicans, with Democrats, with independents. I'll compromise with Martians, if, and here's the critical if, we are shrinking the size, power and spending of the federal government, we're advancing liberty," Cruz told Moran. "Where I think Republicans so often have gone wrong is they compromise going backwards. They've comprised growing government, expanding the debt, making the problem worse, and I'm not willing to compromise in a way that puts [America] further on the road to bankrupting our kids and grandkids. "
One area where Cruz isn't willing to compromise on is tax increases, telling Moran he would turn down a deal that offered $10 of spending cuts in exchange for $1 of tax increases.
"When you're coming out of a recession and potentially on the verge of entering another recession, they worst thing you can do is jack up taxes on job creators, on small businesses," he said. "That's something that is almost sure to spiral you into a recession."
On the same day one couple became engaged on the convention stage in Tampa, Cruz admitted he knows a thing or two about campaign romances. He met his wife, Heidi, while he served as a domestic policy advisor for George W. Bush's 2000 campaign, becoming one of eight couples to wed after helping elect the Texas governor to the White House.
"You get a bunch of young people together and you work them around the clock and things happen," Cruz told Moran. "Whatever else anyone says about George W. Bush, in our house, it'll always be a uniter and not a divider."