What you think of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) depends on who you believe.
Is the freshman senator on an "ego trip," putting himself before country (Dana Milbank, The Washington Post), or is he standing on his principles (Cruz's conservative supporters)?
ABC chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl says Cruz is "so hated" among GOP senators that "he's going to need a food taster."
In a telephone interview with me, Cruz acknowledges he would not win a "Mr. Congeniality" contest if it were up to the Republican leadership in the Senate, but contends that they and some of his colleagues are out of touch with the will of the people: "The reaction in Washington is the polar opposite of the reaction outside Washington," he says. "People across the country are frustrated that so many elected officials in Washington are not listening and ignoring the concerns of the people."
I ask him about his controversial move last week to change Senate rules by requiring 60 votes to pass the debt ceiling increase, instead of a 51-vote majority. Cruz responded, "...there is no universe in which I would be willing to consent to allow (majority leader) Harry Reid to raise the debt ceiling with no spending reforms on only 51 votes. The reaction from a significant number of my colleagues was considerable anger and dismay."
Cruz rejects the notion that a vote against raising the debt ceiling would have produced another government shutdown, favoring Democrats. He points to history: "The last 55 times the debt ceiling has been raised, Congress attached significant conditions to it 28 times. Virtually every major spending restraint Congress has passed has come through the debt ceiling." As two examples, he cites the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act, which, according to its co-author Sen. Phil Gramm, was "the first binding constraint imposed on federal spending" and last year's Budget Control Act, nicknamed "sequestration."
How does Cruz expect to get the reforms he wants without a Republican Senate majority, not to mention a Republican president?
"We have the same number of votes we had when we got the Budget Control Act," he maintains. "If we had stood together and voted no, we could have blocked this from happening. ... We would (then have sat) down and negotiated a resolution, a compromise, with some meaningful spending restraints."
What about the Republican and larger Washington establishment and the Tea Party? The prevailing wisdom is that the Tea Party harms incumbents, replacing them with conservative purists, who then lose the general election.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Cal Thomas' column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.