Ted Cruz is sure I am out to get him. He has been enduring this interview for an hour in a New Orleans hotel suite with sweeping views of the barges churning up the Mississippi River 29 stories below. Not until the end does he hint the whole thing is just theater, its outcome as certain as a show vote in the Senate. Questions were asked; answers were given. But now, Cruz suggests, he will be reduced to caricature in the pages of TIME, since he believes the media has a habit of casting conservatives as either dumb, evil or crazy.
Seven months into his Senate career, Cruz has won a reputation as the chamber’s biggest trouble-maker. But to movement conservatives around the country, Rafael Edward Cruz, 42, is something different: the Platonic ideal of a Tea Party legislator and just maybe the man to lead the GOP out of the Obama era. At a moment when others in the GOP are urging compromise, the Texan has bet big on combat. If calling out the “squishes” in the Republican “surrender caucus” has made him a pariah in Washington, that is more by design than accident. “Every time Establishment Senators and Washington insiders scold him, it’s a payday,” says Dave Carney, a veteran GOP strategist. “He thrives on the fact that insiders are saying this is not the way that it’s done. For the last 40 years, the way it’s been done sucks.”