Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who spent his first year on Capitol Hill stomping around in his always-mentioned-in-profiles cowboy boots without a care in the world about who he stepped on, has suddenly decided that being hated isn't that fun and maybe isn't great politics. Republicans are welcoming him — especially those eager to coddle Cruz's conservative fans.
Politico reports that the junior senator is finally starting to make some friends in Washington. "After battling with Senate Republicans for much of 2013, prompting tense confrontations and occasional shouting matches," it writes, "Cruz is starting to achieve what once seemed unthinkable: He’s getting along reasonably well with most of his GOP colleagues." It's like the awkward kid that finally finds a welcoming table in the lunchroom. Or, really, more like the loud kid that insists he doesn't care about where he sits at lunch and then discovers that having no one to talk to every day isn't that great.
That's sort of what actually happened. Cruz's chastening began shortly after the government shutdown in October, an event that Cruz still insists wasn't his fault, even though it basically was. Cruz demanded that the House force the Senate to consider a government funding bill that excluded Obamacare. It did. He then gave a 21-hour speech insisting that Obamacare be defunded. Democrats ignored him; Republican poll numbers fell through the floor; the party capitulated. It was a disaster that was only alleviated by the equivalent disaster of the Obamacare website.
Prior to and during the shutdown fight, Cruz was audacious in his not-giving-a-crap. At one point, Senator Sen. Kelly Ayotte yelled at him during a Republican caucus lunch, demanding he explain how the hell he thought Republicans could win the shutdown fight. Cruz was already unpopular at those lunches, since he wouldn't say anything, not participating in the official strategy because he had his own plans. A staffer for Sen. John McCain summarized the feelings of the party's establishment when GQ profiled Cruz in October: McCain "fucking hates Cruz. He's just offended by his style." Well, there you go!
In September, The Wire indexed the Republicans who were mad at or disagreed with Cruz. By October, that list would probably have been too long to fit on a single web page.
Then Cruz lost. Got crushed. If he had through some miracle won the Obamacare fight, he'd have been a hero. He didn't. Far-right conservatives loved him — loved him! — but most of the rest of the country very much did not. Cruz launched the anti-Obamacare fight in alliance with the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political group founded by senator-turned-Heritage Foundation CEO Jim DeMint which pledged to work against incumbent Republicans that it deemed insufficiently conservative. After the shutdown loss, Cruz quietly told his colleagues that he wouldn't work with the Fund, the first timid, wilty olive branch.
And now? Actual friends! Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina:
“I like Ted,” Graham gushed last week. “And I think the confrontational style has been mitigated a bit. That’s not saying he’s abandoned what he believes, but I think he’s adjusted, and people who are smart enough to adjust will do very well.”
Of course, Graham is facing a primary fight in South Carolina, and Cruz's still-enthusiastic conservative base could help in that fight. Tennessee's Lamar Alexander said that Cruz "comes to the Republican meetings, he’s good-humored, and from my point of view, a pleasure to have in the caucus." Alexander is also facing a conservative primary opponent.
But even Ayotte and McCain seem to welcome the guy. "He and I have been very collegial since that point," Ayotte said about the lunchroom confrontation. "I think he’s been very cooperative," McCain said. Asked if Cruz had appeared to be sorry for his role in the shutdown, McCain said he hadn't. "It’s better to just move on."
In other words, no one expects the loud kid to stop being loud. But if he brings good stuff in his lunch bag — like enthusiastic Tea Party supporters — there's always room for him at the table.