Sen. Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor for more than 21 consecutive hours Tuesday and Wednesday to take a symbolic stand against the federal health care law, but he was hoping less to change minds within the Capitol than he was trying to broadcast a message to conservative Republicans outside the Beltway.
They got the message. Much like the filibuster staged earlier this year by Sen. Rand Paul in opposition to the government's broadening use of unmanned drones, Cruz's speech drove a conversation on Twitter and cable news, and dominated the discourse among conservative media and advocacy groups. Cruz was scheduled to call in to Rush Limbaugh's radio show Wednesday afternoon.
“Americans owe Sen. Ted Cruz a debt of gratitude for standing on principle in the fight to stop ObamaCare,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement as Cruz, R-Texas, wrapped up his presentation mid-day Wednesday.
Cruz's commanding show of rhetorical endurance will do nothing to block funding for the health care law, but it could have significant political implications. Should Cruz seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016, something he is widely believed to be considering, the same conservative supporters he energized this week will be critical to propelling him through and ahead of a deep Republican primary field.
"I think it really helps him in Iowa, as in all states," said A.J. Spiker, chairman of the Republican Party in Iowa, a key early-primary state. "Americans are ready for someone who will stand up on principle."
Cruz skipped a D.C. fundraiser Tuesday for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, which was held as Cruz was speaking — but Spiker said that, too, would reflect positively on Cruz.
Cruz and Paul "show there's a new generation of Republicans rising up," Spiker added.
If the reaction by some Republican lawmakers and operatives is any indication, however, Cruz's bold play for the conservative base might leave him in an awkward position with more moderate Republican voters who question the point of expending so much energy when it was known well ahead of time that it would do nothing to change actual health care policy.
"At some point, we've got to figure out how to solve the problem," former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., said Wednesday as he strolled through the Capitol basement.
Just don't tell that to conservatives still high on Cruz's performance.
"Cruz is one of the smartest guys on the Hill, and he knows what he is doing," said Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer. "He has the support of the conservative movement and they are encouraging him to fight on."
Some conservatives were inspired by Cruz's performance to look past the Hill to the White House. Asked whether Republicans would remember Cruz's principled, if legislatively ineffective, stand come the 2016 GOP presidential primary, one party strategist didn't hesitate.
"They'll remember," the strategist said. "He and Rand [Paul] are now frontrunners for the nomination."