Sen. Ted Cruz has become a marked man in Washington, where his insistence that Republicans hold fast to defunding Obamacare -- even if it means flirting with a government shutdown -- has been derided from across the GOP political spectrum.
But outside of the city's establishment, the Texas Republican and his allies in the defunding fight are heroes to tea party groups and conservative rank-and-file voters who say they have been waiting for leaders to pick a fight on an issue of principle.
Mr. Cruz appears to be headed for defeat in his call for Republicans to filibuster the spending bill, with more than enough GOP senators signaling they'll join Democrats to head off a filibuster -- particularly because they would be filibustering House Republicans' own bill, and because they don't want to be seen as responsible for a government shutdown, which would result if Congress doesn't pass a stopgap spending bill by early next week.
But Mr. Cruz said he won't go quietly.
"I intend to utilize every procedural means available to prevent Harry Reid from funding Obamacare," he told reporters outside the Senate on Monday afternoon, fresh off another sparring match with the Nevada Democrat and Senate majority leader.
The two men eyed each other warily from the chamber floor as they guarded against parliamentary tricks. At one point, Mr. Cruz objected to Mr. Reid's request to be allowed to transact some routine business confirming presidential nominees. Later in the day, Mr. Cruz relented and the nominees went through.
Late in the day, Mr. Reid set up a key Wednesday test vote in the showdown.
Michael McKenna, who runs GOP strategy firm MWR Strategies, said when judged by winning the health care fight, Mr. Cruz may lose. But Mr. McKenna said that's not the goal.
"The strategy here has been directed at making Ted Cruz the No. 1 guy in the conservative world," he said. "When you judge it on that metric, it's been highly successful."
The bill on the Senate floor, which passed the House on Friday, funds the government through mid-December, but prohibits any spending on the Affordable Care Act. However, thanks to parliamentary rules, it will take only a majority vote to strip out the Obamacare provisions.
That leaves Mr. Cruz in the confusing position of calling for a filibuster of the House Republicans' bill. He tried to get around that, asking that any Obamacare amendment votes have to achieve a 60-vote threshold, but Mr. Reid shot down that proposal, saying that would set a precedent.
"What he said, in effect, is that he believes a bare majority of the Senate consisting only of Democrats should be able to force Obamacare funding on a straight party-line vote," Mr. Cruz said. "I think that is a mistake."
Mr. Cruz's maneuverings, though, have baffled analysts who said he picked a doomed fight.
"I'm not sure he has a strategy. This seems to be sort of like Obama on Syria. It's kind of improvising as you go along here," said Michael D. Tanner, a Cato Institute senior fellow. He said Mr. Cruz will fall short in getting the votes to filibuster what amounts to his own bill.
His case was hurt early on by Republican leaders who said they wouldn't countenance a government shutdown, removing the key threat behind a showdown with President Obama.
Mr. Tanner said there was a chance to fight for something more specific such as a one-year delay in the individual mandate requiring all Americans to obtain coverage, but there was never much likelihood Mr. Obama or Democrats were going to accept an end of the Affordable Care Act.
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