Sen. Ted Cruz has been on the job seven weeks, and in that short time he’s made a big splash in Washington D.C. Speculation about the dynamic freshman legislator is blistering the blogosphere, and many are wondering if the Republican Party can control Cruz.
The Senate Armed Services Committee hearings for defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel were already tough, but then it was Cruz’s turn he turned up the heat.
Cruz’s questions didn’t sit well with fellow Senators like John McCain, and they let him know in a rare public chiding.
"I just want to make it clear," said McCain, "Senator Hagel is an honorable man. He has served his country and no one on this committee at any time should impune his character or his integrity."
More of the same
If you had been on Cruz’s campaign trail last year, then you wouldn’t be surprised by his extreme rhetoric now that he’s a sitting senator.
As he worked to win the Texas GOP Senate nomination last July, Cruz was at a San Antonio sports bar pushing his conservative credentials as the state’s former solicitor general to the Tea Party.
"We stood up to the World Court and the United Nations and defended U.S. sovereignty and won," Cruz said to the cheers of his supporters.
From campaign to senator
"What he has failed to do, I think, is to make a transition from the campaign trail to being United States Senator,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. He said Cruz has never been part of a legislative body before and he’s learning the hard way how to get along.
“A lot of the lines about whether the U.S. should be in the World Court or even the United Nations – lot of things that really whip them up in a rural rotary club are not the main points in the Senate,” he said.
Cruz might be getting the skunk eye in D.C., but back in Texas his tough talk is wildly popular with many. Steve Munisteri is the Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and said that Cruz has been dynamite.
"I think that it’s very rare that a freshman senator receives that much national attention as he has," said Munisteri, also saying that Cruz is showing presidential potential.
"The beauty of having a six year term is that, when it doesn’t overlap with the presidential election, it basically gives you a free shot and test the waters for 2016 without having to give up your senate seat," Munisteri said.
"There’s no way in hell that Ted Cruz could ever get elected president," said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Democratic Party of Texas.
He said the conservative candidates in last year’s presidential election couldn’t connect with voters and that Cruz is not going to be a solution for the GOP problem with Hispanic voters the next time around.
"The word Hispanic doesn’t translate into the word 'stupid.' Hispanics get it. They understand that Ted Cruz is not for them," said Hinojosa.
Hinojosa points to Cruz’s vote against the Violence against Women Act, and his opposition to comprehensive immigration reform and an increase to the minimum wage.
Primarily a conservative senator
Jillson said Cruz’s positions are not as anti-Hispanic as Hinojosa claims, but instead reflect how he sees himself and the world.
"Ted Cruz doesn’t see himself as a Hispanic candidate or senator, he sees himself, first of all, as a conservative senator secondly as a Republican senator and somewhere down the line a Hispanic Senator," said Jillson.
That works well in winning votes in a Texas GOP primary, but Cruz may have to shake up that priority list if he’s going to play any role in helping to save the Republican Party from shifting demographics and the Latino vote.