By Justin Sink - 10/20/13 04:41 PM EDT
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is standing firm in his fight against ObamaCare, undeterred by party elders and poll numbers that suggest his unflinching crusade against the president's signature legislative accomplishment has badly bruised the Republican Party's national brand.
Echoing the determination he voiced in Senate hallways and in secret meetings with House Republicans throughout the shutdown, Cruz said he was "not remotely" upset that party leaders had chastised him over a legislative strategy many believe forced the 16-day government shutdown.
He said he would "continue to do anything I can to stop the train wreck that is ObamaCare," hinting that he could again seek to complicate efforts to pass a long-term budget deal.
"I don’t work for the party bosses in Washington. I work for the people of Texas, and I fight for them,” Cruz told CNN's "State of the Union."
“Look, the reason people are frustrated all over the country is that far too many people get elected and they think they’re there to be part of the club,” he continued.
The Texas senator's isolation from that club was dramatically apparent on Sunday.
Sen. John McCain said Cruz "went on a fool's errand" and predicted that popular opinion would prevent Cruz from forcing another shutdown.
"I think he can exercise his rights as a senator, but it will not happen," McCain told CNN's "State of the Union." "The American people will not stand for another one of these things."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made clear during his interview with CBS' "Face the Nation" that his only interest was moving forward from the failed attempt to undermine ObamaCare.
"There will not be another government shutdown. You can count on that," McConnell said. "Shutting down the government, in my view, is not conservative policy."
The problem for the GOP is that dyed-in-the-wool conservatives disagree. A Pew Research poll released last week showed Cruz with a 74 to 8 percent approval rating among Tea Party Republicans.
That number falls to 56 to 44 percent among all Republicans, and the same poll shows the Tea Party's popularity at record lows. Since the shutdown, those with an unfavorable opinion of the conservative movement have ticked up 4 percentage points to 49 percent. The Tea Party's favorability has dropped from 37 percent in June to 30 percent today.
Cruz says that his colleagues' willingness to accept ObamaCare as the status quo was the reason that their poll numbers have eroded. Americans want Republicans to stand firm against ObamaCare, he argues. But intraparty divisions have undermined that message.
"There are a lot of politicians in Washington who want to put ObamaCare behind us," Cruz said. "They want to say, 'No more. No more discussing ObamaCare.' The American people are not satisfied with that."
And he blasted back at his colleagues, insinuating that what they said on television or in town halls differed from what they told him privately.
“What I say privately to my colleagues is the same thing I say publicly,” he said. “And you know what’s interesting? Virtually every person in that room that was criticizing what [Sen.] Mike Lee [(R-Utah)] and I were doing would have said very different things if a camera was in this room. Because what they’re telling their constituents is very different from what they’re saying behind closed doors.”
But Senate veterans say that Cruz is unwilling to accept political realities. With President Obama in the White House until 2017, the GOP would need 67 votes in the Senate to override a veto.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) told ABC News it was “a mistake to focus on something that couldn't be achieved,” saying Cruz needed to display “a little bit of self-restraint.”
And, Bush complained, the controversy over the shutdown had "crowded out" how "dysfunctional" the implementation of ObamaCare had been.
"Frankly, I think the best way to repeal ObamaCare is to have an alternative; we never hear the alternative. We could do this in a much lower cost with improved quality based on our principles, free market principles, And two, show how ObamaCare, flawed to its core, doesn't work," Bush said.
Cruz insisted he "profoundly" disagreed with "gray-beards in Washington" who said the GOP would benefit by allowing ObamaCare to collapse under its own weight.
“I consider that theory the ‘Bad Samaritan’ theory. Basically, inflict a bunch of harm on the American people and hope we benefit politically from it. What a terrible, cynical approach.," Cruz said. "I am not interested in seeing the American people suffer just because my party might benefit politically if they blame the Democrats for the foolish policies that have been imposed.”
--This report was originally published at 10:19 a.m. and last updated at 12:41 p.m.