Who is Ted Cruz and how did he nearly crash the US government?

Ted Cruz, a first-term senator from Texas, took the US government to the brink of disaster. He has paid a high price in credibility, but he wasn't always a punchline.

On Wednesday evening, America held its collective breath. Not for a Presidential proclamation or a vote in Congress. In fact, all signs indicated that finally a deal had been reached that would pass a vote in both houses on Capitol Hill, and that the President would sign.

No, America held its breath waiting to see if a first-term senator from Texas, the increasingly erratic Ted Cruz, would try to single-handedly scupper the whole thing by filibustering the Senate vote on the deal to raise the debt ceiling and finally re-fund the government. Was he bluffing?

Of course he was. The Democrats – and the vast majority of moderate Republicans who support them – were holding all the cards. The defeat, when it came, was humiliating for the right-wing Tea Party faction that had been holding out against Obamacare. The government is re-funded, and the debt ceiling is raised. Polls show that the American people never supported their wild and mad crusade, and the mainstream of American media mocked him. John McCain, Cruz's Senate colleague, the man who put Sarah Palin on a Presidential ticket, mocked the comparisons Cruz was making that people who supported the Affordable Care Act were like Chamberlain appeasing the Nazis. Everyone mocked him. The Houston Chronicle, his local newspaper, publicly withdrew its endorsement of him this week.

But Ted Cruz wasn't always a punchline.

One year ago he was riding a tremendous political wave. He had just achieved one of the biggest upsets of the year when he beat sitting liutenant-governor of Texas David Dewhurst in the Senate primaries with a plucky long-shot campaign that came out of nowhere. The news website Mother Jones called him “The Republican Barack Obama” in December 2012, once he had cruised to victory in the election in November. Right up until this summer he was being hailed as the potential saviour of the Republican party.

His career had already been impressive, if not high-profile, when he entered the primary race. The first Hispanic ever to be a clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, he also served on the legal team fighting Bush v Gore after the 2000 Presidential election. When he was appointed solicitor-general of Texas in 2003 he was the youngest in America. But he was by no means a well-known figure when he launched his campaign, inauspiciously, in a conference-call to bloggers. Conservatives applauded his entry in the race, but most thought Dewhurst nonetheless had it in the bag.

They were wrong. Cruz soon started attracted the attention of powerful allies – including the Tea Party, who endorsed his campaign. The conservative blog Red State described him as a man with “the battle scars to show he is ready to go to Washington and fight to take our country back from the establishment.”

Quickly gathering steam, he outflanked Dewhurst on the right, beating him to a virtually assured seat in the Senate by a humiliating fourteen points.

Rafael Edward Cruz was born in Alberta, in Canada, to American parents who worked in the oil business. His father, also called Rafael, originally fought for Castro in the revolution, fled Cuba in 1957 after falling foul of the regime, and is now a pastor, with copper-bottomed conservative credentials. His father turned out to be one of Cruz's best political assets in his campaign for the Senate. A profile in the National Review earlier this year described how Cruz senior contributed as both a strategist and a speaker, and won the admiration of some seriously big names, including that behemoth of conservative radio, Rush Limbaugh.

With his father's help, Ted Cruz's rise from outsider to Tea Party darling to Republican rising star was meteoric. So what happened? How did we get from that Ted Cruz to the man who, in the first act of the budget negotiation drama, cast himself in the role of court jester, with a bizarre 21-hour epic speech on the floor of the house which included the Senator reading from Green Eggs and Ham and quoting from reality TV show Duck Dynasty? To the Senator whose Tea Party faction has been holding the nation's federal budget hostage, and threatening debt default if Obamacare wasn't de-funded – and who has led his party into a humiliating defeat?

There were warning signs. Cruz cosied-up to Tea-party conspiracy theories during his campaign. He spoke out against what he described as the dangers of Sharia law, and published an article on his campaign website in which he made clear that he thought George Soros – Glenn Beck's bête noir - was plotting with the United Nations to abolish, of all things, golf courses. The seeds of this shutdown, of this defeat – of Green Eggs and Ham – were clearly sown back in the campaign, when Cruz began to suckle at the Tea Party teat.

The ironic thing is that this should have been a victorious moment for Cruz and his faction. The roll-out of Obamacare happened in the last two weeks quietly, in the background, behind the headlines about the shutdown and Congressional gridlock. If he had not been showboating, Cruz and his allies could have pointed to the technological bugs that plagued the policy's launch. Instead, by fixating on de-funding the law above all else, Cruz not only missed that opportunity, but also any chance Republicans might have had to make other arguments during the budget debate; reducing the deficit, for example. The public opinion game was lost. In an ABC News poll on 14 October, 74 per cent of respondents disapproved of the way the Republicans had handled the crisis, of whom 54 per cent “strongly” disapproved.

It is theoretically possible this is all part of Cruz's plan, perhaps for a run at the 2016 Presidential nomination as an outsider, an anti-Romney. Even while moderates urged him to change focus and dial down the rhetoric, his Political Action Committee, which raises funds for his political campaigns, has increased nearly threefold.

Forcing the shutdown and fighting party moderates over Obamacare may not have been popular with independents, or even with moderate conservatives, but with the extreme rump of the party it has unsurprisingly played extremely well. The Washington Post reported on October 11 that a straw poll of favoured 2016 Presidential candidates taken by Family Research Council Action which is seen as an important early indicator of right-wing preferences for a Republican candidate, saw Cruz win with 42 per cent of the vote, a double-digit lead over the next-nearest winner. The poll is. After two disastrous Republican Presidential candidates who were seen by the party as moderates, it is possible that Cruz is hoping the party will want to select a hard-liner this time.

But, if the six times he was heckled at the Straw Poll presentation are anything to go by, things are not going entirely to plan. He has made enemies of his own party, and is considered a joke by Democrats and the media. “If this man can get the nomination to be the Republican nominee for president,” said Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader this week, “then I pity the Republican party.”

Cruz, in the end, was bedazzled by the adulation of the Tea Party. He made his grab for the fame and headline profile of figures like Michelle Bachman or Sarah Palin, and got it. Only now, as the dust settles, he is finding he has paid a high price in credibility.

It is a dark sign for America's fractured politics that Cruz might yet be vindicated. He's vowed to fight on to de-fund Obamacare. The government is only funded until January. The debt ceiling crisis is only postponed until .

Cruz and the Tea Party may be down, but they aren't out yet.


Ted Cruz speaks to the media after meeting with Republican senators on 16 October 2013. Photo: Getty

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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Battle for Mosul: will this be the end of Islamic State?

The militant group's grip on power is slipping but it has proved resilient in the past.

The battle for Mosul is the latest stage in the long struggle to defeat Islamic State. The group has been around since the late 1990s in one form or another, constantly mutating in response to its environment. Undoubtedly its ejection from Mosul will be a significant moment in the group’s history, but it is unlikely to be its final chapter. The destruction of the group will only be complete when some fundamental changes occur within Iraq and the war in Syria comes to an end.

IS’s roots go back to a training camp established by the militant Islamist Abu Musab al Zarqawi in the late 1990s in Herat, Afghanistan. Founded as an army to overthrow the apostate regimes of the Levant, it fled to northern Iraq in the wake of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan post-9/11 where it re-established itself as a force alongside Ansar al Shariah, a hardline Salafi jihadi organisation.

As American attention shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq, the group was ideally placed to become one of the leading lights in the post-Saddam Iraqi insurgency. Brutally announcing itself to the world in August 2003 with successive attacks on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, the UN headquarters and a Shia shrine in Najaf — the latter being the deadliest attack in Iraq that year with a death toll of 95 — the group grew to assume the mantle of al-Qaeda in Iraq. By 2006 this brand had become somewhat damaged through the brutal sectarian campaign the group waged, and when its founder, Zarqawi, died it sought to reinvent itself as the Mujahedeen Shura Council. This incarnation did not last long either, and eventually it assumed the title of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), alongside a more Iraqi leadership.

This was the start of a diffcult period in the group's history. Its excesses in Iraq (including indiscriminate slaughter of Shia Muslims to stir sectarian hatred and filmed decapitations of prisoners) lost it local support and led to the tribes in Sunni Iraq rising up and supporting the government in Baghdad's fight back against the group. By 2009, when the west abruptly stopped paying attention and withdrew from Iraq the group was largely perceived as in decline, with the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government appearing to slowly assert itself more effectively across the country.

The terrorist attacks by the group continued. And the new government started to advance an increasingly sectarian agenda. These two played off each other in a downward spiral that was given a fresh boost of blood when the civil war in Syria erupted in 2011. Drawing on its existing networks (that were leftovers from when Syria was used as a staging point by the organisation to launch attacks into Iraq), the leadership sent a cell to Syria to explore what opportunities existed within the emerging fight there. This cell became the seed that grew into Jabhat al Nusrah and ultimately IS – a label the group adopted when in June 2013 IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi decided it was time to reveal this link between his Iraqi group and Jabhat al Nusrah. This led to divisions and the breaking up of the two organisations.

For IS, however, it was the beginning of an upward trajectory, building on this division to grow itself substantially in Syria (with Raqqa as its capital) and in 2014 taking over Iraq’s second biggest city of Mosul. We then reach the apex of IS’s success and the biggest expansion of the group yet.

It now seems that this growth had a shelf life of just two-and-a-half years. As the group appears to be losing Mosul, it is likely that we will see the beginning of a period of retraction. But this will not be its end – rather, it will flee back to the hills and the ungoverned spaces in Iraq and Syria from where it will continue a persistent terrorist strategy in both countries. Here it will bide its time until the moment presents itself to rise up. Waiting until the governance in Iraq and Syria fails its people again, the group can paint itself as the protector of Sunnis and once more build on that group's disenfranchisement to win supporters and occupy a space vacated by local governments.

IS's grip on power might currently be slipping but as history has shown, it has waxed and waned depending on the context it is operating in. We are now going to see a period of withdrawal, but unless attention is paid by the global community, it will expand again in the future.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Visit his website at http://www.raffaellopantucci.com