DES MOINES -- Sen. Ted Cruz calls his colleague Rand Paul a "good friend." The two men are the stars of the Tea Party movement, propelled to Washington by activist fervor and allied in their effort to restrain the reach of the federal government.
But when Cruz came to New York City to meet with donors this summer, he privately offered a different take on Paul: The Kentucky senator can never be elected president, he told the moneymen, because he can never fully detach himself from the strident libertarianism of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul.
Word of Cruz's remarks reached Paul's inner circle, touching off anger and resentment.
And the incident further inflamed a rivalry that has been quietly building as the Republican Party tries to grapple with the force and power of its Tea Party wing. Both Cruz and Paul harbor presidential ambitions and view themselves as representing a new, more energized movement of Republican activists. But they are pursuing distinctly different paths as they attempt to rise, diverging not just in style but in their approach to intraparty politics.
Cruz and his aides believe he is uniquely suited to galvanize conservatives, pointing to his leadership of the effort to cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act -- confrontational, pugnacious, disdainful of President Barack Obama. Cruz, 42 -- a Texan, a born-again Baptist and son of an evangelical preacher -- also connects naturally with Christian conservatives, many of whom have become foot soldiers in the Tea Party and view Paul as too unorthodox on social issues.
Paul's inner circle privately derides Cruz as "the chief of the wacko birds," echoing a phrase from Sen. John McCain. And, while allowing Cruz to lead the charge on Obamacare, the Kentucky senator has quietly been reaching out to more establishment forces within the Republican Party, attempting to prove to big donors and mainline Republican organizations that he is more than a Tea Party figure or a rerun of his father's failed candidacies.
In September, Paul mingled with New York financial titans at the Central Park West penthouse of Woody Johnson, the Jets owner and Johnson & Johnson heir, who hosted a Republican National Committee fundraiser with a group of potential 2016 Republican contenders.
A few weeks later, at the Four Seasons in Washington, Paul appeared at a closed-door American Crossroads foreign policy panel and then posed for pictures with donors to the super PAC, which was co-founded by Karl Rove, a despised figure among some Tea Party activists.
And while Paul first won office by taking on the anointed Senate candidate of Kentucky's senior senator, Mitch McConnell, Paul is now helping McConnell's re-election effort and joined him and other establishment Republicans at a lobbyist-filled fundraising retreat for the National Republican Senatorial Committee last month in Sea Island, Ga.
The divergent strategies undertaken by Cruz and Paul not only put them on a collision course should they both pursue presidential candidacies. They also could help determine whether the Tea Party -- right now a muscular and rebellious force within the Republican Party -- remains at war with the establishment or is eventually more smoothly integrated into the party apparatus.
Paul and those close to him are confident that his die-hard libertarian-leaning supporters will not desert him, and that gives him freedom to build bridges beyond that base.
"He's becoming a translator between the grass-roots conservatives and the establishment," said Trygve Olson, a consultant who bridges the two wings. He then added an implicit dig at other Republicans: "He's actually demonstrating leadership."
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