Speech highlights http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303873604579494001552603692?mod=WSJ_hp_RightTopStories&mg=reno64-wsj
WASHINGTON—Rushing to an afternoon vote last month, Sen. Ted Cruz hopped the underground tram to the U.S. Capitol from his office across the street.
The Texan planted his black ostrich cowboy boots in the middle of the small subway car without getting so much as a nod from the other senators—Republican or Democrat—amiably chatting or huddled in their seats.
Mr. Cruz finds himself standing alone a lot these days. His response to the cold shoulders: "The establishment despised Ronald Reagan " before he became president, "but the people loved him."
For the 43-year-old Republican, the Reagan name illuminates his political life's fundamental dichotomy: Many senators from his own party mistrust and dislike him, but many conservatives elsewhere worship him.
How Ted Cruz Followed His Boyhood Idol to Washington
Acquiring his Cuban-immigrant father's love of Ronald Reagan, the Texan geared his life toward emulating the president.
He lives that contrast daily. Moving into the vast congressional hallway that afternoon, he attracted a burst of adulation from tourists. "Ted Cruz, I love you!" shouted a Massachusetts father, William Harvey, there with his young daughter. "President Cruz in 2016!"
Mr. Cruz's quest to position himself as a latter-day Reagan has led him to defy his party's elders on handling issues such as debt and health care, and to become the national face of last fall's government shutdown. His methods have led political rivals to brand him as an extremist and made him the target of talk-show lampoonings.
His quest also has put him in the center of national political debate, a status validated when Vice President Joe Biden singled him out as a threat in a recent fundraising appeal.
"No one has vaulted onto the national political stage faster and caused more of a sensation than Ted Cruz," says Vin Weber, a former congressional leader with strong ties to today's GOP heads. "But his style and tactics in accomplishing that create questions about his ability to broaden his appeal."
Despite Mr. Cruz's high profile, even many Republican colleagues don't know much about the man, what drives him or where he's headed. Mr. Cruz, in a series of interviews over several weeks in the Capitol, in his Washington home and during trips to public and private meetings in Texas and Iowa, spoke of how his childhood devotion to Mr. Reagan drove his education and informs his politics.
In a nutshell, he positions himself as one who can lead the GOP back to majority status by sticking with conservative positions rather than by moderating them, as he says losing Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, John McCain and Bob Dole did.
That is a position designed to contrast him with party-establishment favorites such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who are less wedded to conservative social positions, and with Sen. Rand Paul, a fellow tea-party favorite whose reticence about foreign commitments contrasts with the more muscular global role—including in the Ukraine crisis—that Mr. Cruz and other Reagan disciples advocate.
He deflects questions about the 2016 race but shows signs of toying with presidential plans: His itinerary this month included trips to early presidential-primary states New Hampshire and South Carolina.
"The best thing I can do is to stand up and lead now" rather than get involved in 2016 speculation, Mr. Cruz says.
In his Senate office, Mr. Cruz sits under a giant oil painting of Mr. Reagan at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, where the president declared: "Tear down this wall." Mr. Cruz commissioned the painting after his surprise 2012 Senate victory.
To understand him, Mr. Cruz says, look back to the 9-year-old Rafael "Rafelito" Edward Cruz alongside his father, cheering Mr. Reagan during televised presidential debates. His Princeton University roommate, David Panton, recalls Mr. Cruz saying his life's goal was to "become like Ronald Reagan—a principled conservative and great communicator."
Some in the GOP take exception to his claim to the Reagan mantle. Mr. Paul appeared to be doing exactly that when he said on a news show recently: "Sometimes people want to stand up and say, 'Hey, look at me, I'm the next Ronald Reagan.' Well, almost all of us in the party are big fans of Ronald Reagan." Sen. Paul's office didn't respond to inquiries.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz poses in his office before the oil painting he commissioned of Mr. Reagan giving the Brandenburg Gate speech in which the president declared: "Tear down this wall." Melissa Golden for The Wall Street Journal
Critics say Mr. Cruz's rapid rise has shown a drive to propel himself to stardom rather than to solve his party's or country's problems. Until he teamed up with a Democrat this month to pass a resolution opposing a visa for an Iranian ambassador, he hadn't logged a significant legislative win. "I try to stop bad things from happening," he says.
Some Republicans worry that Mr. Cruz might prove too conservative for a general-election audience, much as some other tea-party favorites have proven incapable of winning Senate elections in the last two election cycles.
And Mr. Cruz needs to demonstrate more of Mr. Reagan's ability to "find common ground," says Roger Porter, a Harvard government professor who served in the Reagan White House. Republicans will be "looking for a standard-bearer who can win and work with others to govern effectively."
Polls this early in a presidential cycle are notoriously unreliable, but the data so far suggest Mr. Cruz would start a quest for the Republican nomination in the middle of the pack. A McClatchy-Marist poll this week showed him sixth among 10 potential Republican candidates tested.
Mr. Cruz's rabble-rousing style has paid off with a $1.5 million book deal and $4 million in political donations last year.
That style clearly resonates in some voter blocs. "I just came from Washington, D.C., and it's great to be back in America," he said to cheering crowds at an Iowa convention of home-schoolers in March, where his attendance fueled speculation about his presidential ambitions. An audience member yelled that the Washington establishment doesn't listen to "the people." Mr. Cruz shot back: "They're not listening to me, either."
Yet despite cultivating an outsider image, Mr. Cruz carries impeccable establishment credentials: degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law School and a Supreme Court clerkship. His wife, Heidi, whom he met when both worked on the 2000 Bush campaign, is a vegetarian with a Harvard M.B.A. and is a Goldman Sachs managing director. The couple lives in a Houston high-rise with a live-in nanny for their daughters, 3 and 6.
Mr. Cruz's admiration for Mr. Reagan began with his father, Rafael Cruz, who often told his story of fleeing Cuba with $100 sewn into his underwear. The elder Mr. Cruz started a Houston seismic-data company, briefly moving with his wife, Eleanor, to Canada, where Mr. Cruz was born in 1970 before the family returned to Houston.
When Sen. Cruz's Canadian birthplace came up last year as a presidential-bid issue, he said his American-born mother—she is of Irish-Italian descent—made him a "natural-born citizen," as the Constitution requires.
"Before Ted was 10," his father says, "he was jumping into our dinner-table conversation about replacing the leftist government of Jimmy Carter with a constitutional conservative like Ronald Reagan."
The father sent his son to a Baptist school with strict standards and conservative values. In home and school, Sen. Cruz says, he learned the socially conservative values he pushes today: opposition to most forms of abortion and to gay marriage, for example.
To improve himself in the style and substance he idolized in Mr. Reagan, Sen. Cruz says, in high school he joined the Constitutional Corroborators, a traveling troupe on the Texas Rotary Club circuit, where he recited by memory the Constitution and words of the Founding Fathers.
At Princeton, he showed up as "much the same person he is today," says Mr. Panton, his former roommate, now an Atlanta investor. "Surrounded by liberals, Ted was resolute with his conservative principles," he says. "Even in the dorm room, he talked about Ronald Reagan all the time."
Mr. Cruz admits to some youthful indiscretions. At Princeton, he built up a $2,000 debt playing poker and had to borrow from his aunt to pay it off. At Harvard, he acted in "The Crucible" but was once so hung over he had to leave the stage.
His Reagan obsession permeated his personal life. Before his marriage ceremony, he took the wedding party for a picnic at the Reagan ranch.
"I grew up in a nonpolitical, Patagonia-wearing, mountain-climbing, vegetarian family in California," Mrs. Cruz says of her courtship. "And then I fall in love with a Hispanic man from Texas who loves the game of politics, is a policy wonk, and…lives and breathes the values of Ronald Reagan."
In 2003, he returned to Texas to become solicitor general responsible for the state's appellate cases, winning cases such as one that allowed a Ten Commandments monument to stand on the state Capitol grounds.
While working in private practice, he visited Washington in 2010 and hit it off with newly elected Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), who encouraged him to run for Senate.
The day Mr. Cruz launched his Senate bid, he polled 2%. Challenging an establishment candidate, he modeled his campaign after Barack Obama's 2008 grass-roots push for the presidency, garnered strong tea-party enthusiasm—and won.
When Mr. Cruz arrived at the U.S. Capitol, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell sought to bring him in the fold by taking him on new-senator trips to Afghanistan and Israel and as his guest to a glitzy Washington gala.
But Mr. Cruz says that warmth dissipated when he quickly dispensed with the unwritten rules of Senate etiquette, particularly the one that said a new senator should be seen but not heard, because "I didn't think representing my constituents was optional."
After he opposed the nomination of Senate Republican alumnus Chuck Hagel as defense secretary—grilling Mr. Hagel sharply in hearings about positions he worried were anti-Israel and weak on Iran—Mr. Cruz says some GOP senators told him that he crossed the line in his strident challenge of the nomination.
He enhanced his notoriety as a rhetorical bully in a Senate Judiciary hearing on gun control after the Sandy Hook school shootings. His questioning of veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), who was pushing to reinstate the assault-weapons ban, came across as a lecture, prompting her to lash out, "Senator, I'm not a sixth-grader."
The measure failed. Soon after, Sen. Feinstein, when encountering him in the Senate elevator, would greet him: "Hello, tough guy."
When a bipartisan group unveiled a comprehensive immigration plan, Mr. Cruz criticized its border-security provisions and path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Later, he infuriated House Republican leaders by denouncing their immigration plan as "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.
His next gambit: an all-out effort to defund Obamacare. Despite resistance from Senate Republicans and Democrats, he stood up before an empty Senate on Sept. 24 to argue Congress shouldn't renew government funding while the health law remained on the books. "I rise today in opposition to Obamacare," he said, launching a 21-hour monologue that included a reading of "Green Eggs and Ham."
Mr. Cruz was roundly pilloried. "Technically, this was just a tantrum," said Jimmy Kimmel on his talk show. "And while the speech was not a record for the longest ever given on the Senate floor, it did tie the record for the dumbest."
While he lost his defunding attempt, he says he finds victory in the low approval ratings of Mr. Obama and his health-care law.
Relations with GOP colleagues chilled noticeably, he says. At weekly Senate GOP lunches, some colleagues went out of their way to avoid sitting beside him, several attendees say. "Some aspects of the Senate are like the junior-high lunchroom or 'Mean Girls' cliques," Mr. Cruz says.
He doubled down on his approach this year, angering Republicans by insisting on a procedural vote on raising the federal debt ceiling rather than letting it slide through the Senate—thus forcing the GOP leader and 11 other Republicans to vote with Democrats. "Why are you throwing Republicans under the bus?" he recalls a colleague asking at a lunch. "I'm not," he responded. "I'm urging us to quit bankrupting the country."
Faced with Mr. Cruz's defiance, the Republican Senate leadership has frequently acted as if he were invisible, he says. Mr. McConnell maintains severely limited contact with Mr. Cruz, occasionally refusing to even say hello when they pass. Mr. McConnell has disagreed strongly with Mr. Cruz's tactics, a McConnell spokesman says.
Mr. Cruz says he won't temper his approach. Despite being named vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee last year, he says he now refuses to raise money for the group because it has chosen to back incumbents in GOP primaries, sometimes against tea-party candidates.
In a meeting in his office last month, he reviewed the draft speech for the following day's appearance at Conservative Political Action Conference, a gathering where most GOP presidential hopefuls would appear. "I want to tell them they don't need to be scared," he told his staff, "that we can win again by following Reagan's example of standing on principle and campaigning against Washington."
At the CPAC conference, he took that point further by criticizing by name Messrs. Romney, McCain and Dole for losing by moderating their positions. He promptly earned a rebuke from Mr. McCain, who demanded an apology for the ailing Mr. Dole. Mr. Cruz later praised Mr. Dole as a war hero, but never apologized.
Some CPAC attendees didn't seem to mind. "Sometimes having the right enemies is as important as having the right friends," says one, Sarasota, Fla., investor George Templeton.
Mr. Cruz vaulted to second place in the CPAC straw poll after Sen. Paul, from seventh a year earlier.
Later that day, at a conference hosted by the Center for Security Policy, Mr. Cruz said his foreign policy is between Mr. Paul's nonintervention leanings and Mr. McCain's more activist world approach. "My views are very much the views of Ronald Reagan," he said, "which I would suggest is a third point on the triangle."
Mr. Cruz's positions endear him to the grass-roots conservative movement. Back in Texas, he is casting a bigger shadow now that Gov. Rick Perry isn't seeking re-election. In last month's Texas primaries, Mr. Cruz endorsed five candidates, four of whom won. Some office seekers now identify themselves as "Cruz Republicans."
A poll this week by Public Policy Polling showed 47% of Texas voters surveyed approved of Mr. Cruz, more than approved of Gov. Perry or Texas' other GOP Senator, John Cornyn.
Washington has begun to acknowledge he has arrived. He returned from Texas to speak at the Gridiron Dinner, an exclusive political-journalistic annual event. He got a $15 haircut from the Capitol barber and reviewed his remarks, prepared with the help of professional joke writers.
Before the dinner, he played George Strait's country music in his apartment above a museum overlooking the Capitol. He disappeared into the bedroom in bluejeans, emerging in a white tie and coattails. Mrs. Cruz, 41, had arrived in town and unhappily spied his favorite bachelor meal, cans of Campbell's Chunky soup; she is trying to get him to eat less processed food.
At the dinner, he played off his reputation as an egotist disliked by Democrats and Republicans alike, and he got a big laugh by saying his 21-hour speech included "nothing but my favorite sound"—his own voice.
The next day, Mr. Cruz was back on the road to slam the establishment.
All signs point to a presidential bid. Mr. Cruz says he's traveling to "fire up the grass roots." Yet a new video on his website filled with fiery stump lines is more of a presidential commercial than a voter update. A new super PAC, Draft Ted Cruz for President, launched last month. On his fourth Iowa swing in just a few months, he visited the crop-and-cattle farm of Bruce Rastetter, an influential Republican whose support is sought by GOP presidential hopefuls. Mr. Rastetter was noncommittal.
At a Cerro Gordo County GOP dinner, local Republican activist Paul Pate described Mr. Cruz's venture into Iowa, home of the first presidential caucuses: "This is the senator's off-Broadway performance to give him a chance to work on his message."
Mr. Cruz is also making some progress working across the aisle. He joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) as a co-sponsor on her military-sexual-assault bill that narrowly failed last month. His bill demanding the Obama administration bar a visa for Iran's new United Nations ambassador—because of his affiliation with the 1979 American embassy seizure—passed unanimously because of an unlikely partnership with Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) and was signed by Mr. Obama Friday.
"I'll work with Democrats, Republicans, independents, libertarians," Mr. Cruz says. "Heck I'll even work with Martians to get this country back on track."
Some fellow Senators still apparently aren't ready. After a recent floor vote, Mr. Cruz entered an elevator occupied by three lawmakers; none greeted him. After a silent ride to the basement for the subway, Mr. Cruz said: "Have a great day."
The others rushed out, saying nothing.