Has Ted Cruz Hit The Tipping Point?

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ABC's Michael Falcone reports:

The Ted Cruz headlines just won't stop.

"Sen. Ted Cruz says Obama wants immigration bill to fail to hurt GOP," wrote the Dallas Morning News last week. Another Texas paper, the Houston Chronicle, published a recent piece titled: "Ted Cruz: The next Reagan or the next Joe McCarthy?"

Politico carried this on their homepage: "Ted Cruz defends his blunt style." And Salon ominously foreshadowed, "The coming Rand Paul-Ted Cruz brawl."

In recent weeks the freshman senator from Texas has been the subject of a profile in The New York Times, which dubbed him "Washington's new bad boy," and in the New Yorker, which surfaced a speech he delivered in 2010 accusing a dozen members of the Harvard Law School faculty of being communists. (Cruz is a Harvard Law School graduate). Earlier this month, CNN's chief Congressional correspondent Dana Bash traveled to Texas to interview Cruz and so did the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody.

Without a doubt, Cruz has attracted more attention than any other freshman member of Congress from either party in the opening months of the 113th Congress. The Republican lawmaker made waves for his blunt questioning of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearings, and he has been embraced by conservative leaders seeking a new hero.

He has been hailed by the Tea Party Express as a politician who is "shaking up Washington, D.C. just like he promised" and by another political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, as someone who is "showing Washington what courage looks like."

And that is almost exactly how Cruz sees it too.

"I made promises to the people of Texas that I would come to Washington to shake up the status quo," Cruz recently wrote to The New York Times and Politico in response to a list of e-mailed questions. (The Texas Republican declined to grant interviews to either publication).

"Ted's always been ambitious, he's always been arrogant," said one Republican strategist who has known Cruz since before coming to Washington. "I think the honest truth is, he's doing exactly what he's said he was going to do when he campaigned."

But keeping his promise has also earned him his share of criticism - and not just from those on the other side of the aisle - from prominent fellow Republicans too.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called some of the questions Cruz posed to Hagel "out of bounds" and Sen. John McCain of Arizona told The Times' Jonathan Weisman in an interview that "the appropriate way to treat Senator Hagel is to be as tough as you want to be, but don't be disrespectful or malign his character" (implying that Cruz had fallen short of that standard). Democrats piled on too.

In an interview on Tuesday with the Texas Tribune, Cruz defended his conduct at the Hagel hearings, saying he "focused on substance and, in particular, Mr. Hagel's policy record."

"It has not focused on personal issues, and, indeed, the character attacks that have been raised have been leveled at me for asking questions that I think every senator should be concerned to know the answer," he told the Tribune's Emily Ramshaw.

Cruz has won prominent advocates for his take-no-prisoners style.

"Most politicians know what to say to get elected but then arrive in Washington with no real spine - or in many cases, no intention of ever doing what they promised," former Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservative icon who now heads the Heritage Foundation, wrote in a Politico Op-Ed. "Not Cruz. He's proved himself an effective advocate for the founding principles that made our nation great: personal freedom and responsibility, local control and adherence to the law as it is written, not the way some politicians wish it was written."

And the junior senator from Texas has already achieved a certain iconic status himself. A Texas Republican who filed paperwork to mount a primary challenge to incumbent GOP Sen. John Cornyn told the Daily Caller that Cruz is an inspiration to him.

"If I'm trying to describe somebody who I would best mimic, it would be Sen. Cruz," the challenger, Erick Wyatt, told The Daily Caller's Alexis Levinson. (Regardless of Wyatt's compliment, reports have suggested a close political alliance between Cruz and Cornyn).

Those who know him say Cruz has been more than happy to take full advantage of his time in the spotlight, but the freshman lawmaker who previously served as solicitor general of Texas, emphasized in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody that he is taking all of the new-found attention in stride.

"I try to pay, pay very little attention to the media," he said. "It is, as you know, a fickle creature."

Notably, Cruz's approach represents a marked contrast to that of another prominent Republican, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who started out his career in the U.S. Senate quietly. In 2011, Rubio spent his first months in Washington mostly out of the public eye. Since then, of course, he has become a major player in the Republican Party, emerging as a key voice in the immigration reform debate and stoking speculation about a potential 2016 presidential run.

With Cruz and Rubio's stars rising fast, one Texas GOP insider predicted that the U.S. Senate may eventually not be big enough for the both of them: "At some point the fire hydrant is going to get crowded, and we'll see who marks it."