Ted Cruz blazed onto the national scene as the skunk at the GOP’s picnic in 2013, launching a historic filibuster, pushing for a government shutdown, and raising millions of dollars for outside conservative groups that attacked his fellow Republican senators.
But with the 2016 presidential season on the horizon, the Texas firebrand has subtly changed his tune over the last six months. Instead of agitating against his fellow Republicans, as he did over Obamacare funding in the tumultuous leadup to the 2013 government shutdown, he is now reserving his fire exclusively for Democrats.
“Ted Cruz, Team Player” is a twist few saw coming from the freshman who has made too many enemies to count in Washington. But even Cruz’s most vocal GOP detractors can’t argue with the $250,000 pledge he made to the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in September, making Cruz one of the largest individual donors to Republican senators and candidates this cycle.
On top of the NRSC pledge, Cruz has given thousands to five incumbent GOP senators, including $7,500 to Sen. John Cornyn, an establishment senator frequently derided by the Tea Party. And he’s given significantly more cash to GOP hopefuls like Ben Sasse in Nebraska, Joni Ernst in Iowa, Steve Daines in Montana, Ed Gillespie in Virginia, and Cory Gardner in Colorado, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Importantly, none of the candidates that Cruz has supported in the last six months have been running against incumbent Republicans.
Cruz has also been on the road nearly constantly in 2014, focusing on the early presidential primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, while making detours when he’s asked to, like a surprising visit to stump for embattled Sen. Pat Roberts in Kansas. Roberts had been high on conservatives’ hit lists in the primary season, but now Cruz has hopped on Roberts’ campaign bus tour (only for a mile, but still) to help rally conservative Kansans behind the comparatively moderate 78-year-old.
“The primary is over, and I want to speak to folks who are frustrated with Washington,” Cruz told the crowd. “I promise you there is nobody more frustrated with Washington, D.C. than I am. But let me urge you, if you’re frustrated with Washington, the answer is not to stay home and keep Harry Reid as majority leader.”
Roberts, in turn, treated Cruz like the celebrity he has become among conservative activists, introducing him as “the prairie fire from Texas” and, one time, as just “The Man.”
The scene was all a long way from the days—less than a year ago—when Cruz was raising money for the Madison Project, which helped fund Milton Wolf, Roberts’ primary challenger. Despite running a lackluster campaign, Wolf, a physician who posted patients’ X-rays on Facebook and joked about them with commenters, came within seven points of beating Roberts.
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