Senator Ted Cruz is up for re-election in 2018, and it's looking like he's finally noticed that a lot of people hate him and he hasn't done much since being elected in 2012.
Senator Ted Cruz is up for re-election in 2018, and it's looking like he's finally noticed that a lot of people hate him and he hasn't done much since being elected in 2012.
Photo by Michael Starghill

Is Ted Cruz, Most Hated Guy in the Senate, Trying to Change His Image?

It's no secret that Senator Ted Cruz isn't exactly beloved by his fellow lawmakers. After all, he's made his political career out of finding a way to oppose the majority on just about any issue that is set in front of him.

And initially that approach served him well. Sure, he's not like his Texas counterpart Senator John Cornyn, who is so well ensconced in the Senate that he can hit the gym with Democrats, lunch with Republicans, take appropriate stances that will please his constituents and seldom alienate anyone. 

But Cruz has had his own thing, and the Cruz-ian way has gotten him plenty of headlines. He even managed to finagle a presidential run out of his time in the Senate despite having spent much of it holding fake filibusters and reading Dr. Seuss from the Senate floor. But along the way, Cruz has managed to annoy members of his own party so much that at some points since Cruz was elected in 2012, a large portion of Congress would likely have been willing to come together in a rare show of bipartisan support just to vote Cruz off the island.

Minnesota Senator Al Franken has said as much in his new memoir, Al Franken: A Giant in the Senate. There's an entire chapter, titled "Sophistry," dedicated to the junior senator from Texas. "Here's the thing you have to understand about Ted Cruz," Franken writes. "I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz."

Franken isn't exaggerating. Cruz has made his name as a far-right figure who opposes gay marriage, the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform and has been pugnacious to the point it's surprising nobody has actually taken a swing at him. Since he took office, both Republicans and Democrats have publicly called Cruz rude and arrogant. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner called him "Lucifer in the flesh" and a "miserable son of a bitch."

In fact, it seems as if it's been the fashion in congressional circles to hate Cruz for a long while now.

But he must be aware of how he is viewed by his own party. If former President George W. Bush flatly saying "I just don't like the guy" didn't register with Cruz, the fact that he was booed at the Republican National Convention last summer must have resonated with him.

He's been trying for a while now to make himself come across as a little more easy to relate to. Late night television host Stephen Colbert recently revealed that Cruz asked Colbert to "humanize" him when they were doing an interview during Colbert's show during Cruz's presidential bid. Colbert advised Cruz to stay away from his stump speech and to try to be, you know, genuine. Of course, Cruz got in front of the audience with the cameras rolling and veered right into his usual shtick.

Of late, he's even been engaging in some activities that seem aimed at softening his image as the resident contrarian of the Senate. He made that one funny joke on Twitter about a man-romper a couple of weeks ago, which surprised a lot of people because Cruz has often come across as someone who has no ability for humor.

On top of that, he's been attempting something entirely outside of the norm for Cruz — trying to orchestrate a compromise. Earlier this month Cruz started meeting with senators to talk about Trumpcare, the Obamacare replacement bill. He got six senators from different Republican factions together and urged them to work out their differences on the Affordable Care Act so they can work together on the new bill, according to USA Today. Republicans, with a slim 52-48 majority in the upper chamber, have little room for error.

Whether his overtures are working remains to be seen, but it's clear that Cruz is trying.

So why is Cruz taking this new approach? It could be because he's up for re-election and is facing Beto O'Rourke, a former punk rocker and three-term Democratic congressman from El Paso. He's Cruz's first electoral challenger and while O'Rourke will have to pull off a minor miracle to win Cruz's seat — he would be the first Democrat elected to statewide office since 1994 — stranger things have happened.

Now, a portion of Texans will still vote for Cruz without a second thought, but there's a tiny chance O'Rourke may be able to find a path to victory if he can tap into the moderate Republicans and independents who have never been terribly fond of Cruz and who find O'Rourke's centrist stances and boyish good looks to be an appealing option.

The thing is, there wouldn't be much of an opening for this if O'Rourke faced someone like Cornyn, but Cruz must know by now that while camps within the Tea Party still adore him, he's disliked by a whole bunch of other people. (Cornyn is even rumored not to be overly fond of his fellow senator from Texas.)

So if Cruz manages to be a part of getting a health care bill through the Senate, that might give him the ability to campaign on more than a track record of bucking against his own party's leadership and achieving few legislative successes.

And he may end up really needing that feather in his cap. Even though Cruz has a massive war chest to draw on for his campaign — he's raised more than $5 million so far — he doesn't have much to show for his time in Washington, D.C. so far, aside from that failed presidential bid and a lot of fellow lawmakers who don't like him.

In other words, one of the most hated senators probably needs to figure out how to make friends, influence people and get something done fast. Otherwise, he may go from being an overnight political sensation to the guy who lost to a Democrat in Texas, of all places. 

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