By Michael Tackett
WASHINGTON — Ted Cruz didn't come quietly into the Senate. The freshman from Texas feuded with Sen. John McCain. He stole the spotlight by chatting with a swarm of reporters when Republican leader Mitch McConnell took to the floor to end the government shutdown. He calls his party's establishment encrusted and entrenched.
And he's just getting started.
Cruz, 42, marks the rise of an era of the unilateral politician in Washington, one who doesn't rely on a party for money, platform or structure.
"Our focus should be far less on party than it should be on listening to the people who elected us," said Cruz, who was the leading advocate of opposing Obamacare even if it meant shutting down the government.
"The greatest divide we have in Washington is not between Republicans and Democrats. It's between entrenched career politicians in both parties and the American people," he said in an interview.
That anti-party posture, even in the tradition-bound Senate, is possible because of changes in campaign-finance laws and Supreme Court rulings coupled with the explosion in the use of social media in politics.
"He has an independent source of money and direct access to the media, and that makes him very hard to control," said James Thurber, a professor of government at American University in Washington. "It gives him power for himself but not collectively and represents the rise of extreme individualism."
The ascendancy of Cruz, who is considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, reflects the tension within the Republican Party between those who say they are losing elections because they aren't holding to their ideals firmly enough and the ones who argue that they must be more pragmatic to win national contests.