Texas Sen. Ted Cruz argued to influential Iowa Republicans Friday that the partial government shutdown he helped precipitate this month was a success despite a compromise that reopened the government and ultimately funded the health care law he has made his name fighting.
His reason: It got people talking.
"One of the things we accomplished in the fight over Obamacare is we elevated the national debate over what a disaster, what a train wreck, how much Obamacare is hurting millions of Americans across this country," Cruz told about 600 Iowa Republicans at the state GOP's annual fundraising dinner in Des Moines.
Cruz's crusader's spirit was the perfect example of what longtime Republicans in Iowa and nationally say is at the root of the party's losing ways and has sparked an intraparty fight over the way forward after consecutive losing presidential elections.
It's a conversation that's spilling out from backstage to behind the podium between national GOP establishment luminaries and state leaders around the country.
Although he ultimately lost, the 42-year-old freshman senator who played a leading role bringing about the 16-day partial federal shutdown with his demand that President Barack Obama gut his 3-year-old health care law. He also successfully urged a core of House Republicans to follow suit.
The final and perhaps most important stop of Ted Cruz's recent public tour was less an exclamation point on a series of raucous events in Texas and more a presentation of opposite ideas for the GOP's way forward nationally.
Immediately before the Cruz spoke, five-term Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad barely acknowledged the guest and said the way forward for the party nationally was by way of the route cleared by Republican governors.
Branstad, 66, at the heart of Iowa's GOP establishment, called Cruz "a bright, up-and-coming senator" before turning his attention to the tangible successes of Republican governors, beginning with Cruz's own governor, Rick Perry of Texas.
"The results of conservative governors are making a difference," said Branstad, who is preparing to seek election next year. "The results of conservative leadership in the departments make a difference. Compare the results in state after states."
He pointed to Wisconsin and Michigan governors moves to trim union rights as reasons for falling unemployment, and Texas' reduction in regulation for rising job growth.
Meanwhile Cruz argued during his 40-minute speech that the health care law enacted in 2010 was the main impediment to economic growth.
Cruz was vague after the speech about whether he would continue to try to defund the law in the future.
"There will be plenty of time the coming months to talk about specific tactics and strategies," he told reporters later. "What I think is critical is we keep the focus on Obamacare, we keep the focus on the fact that this bill isn't working."
Cruz said Democratic senators asking Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebielius for an extension of the enrollment period was no surprise. But he wished they had called for its repeal or defunding, not "expand the enrollment period."
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour pointedly accused tea party-fueled refusal to support spending measures during the shutdown foolhardy. Though Branstad wasn't as direct, he has shown little patience for Congress over the past month, especially the drama surrounding Cruz, and has called for broadening the party to make it more welcoming to voters who have turned away from the GOP.
It was Cruz's third visit to Iowa, which is expected to hold the leadoff GOP nominating caucuses ahead of the 2016 presidential election. He has not ruled out seeking the GOP nomination for president in 2016.
Cruz' reception in Iowa was polite, but a far cry from the enthusiastic receptions he received on what was no less than a sort-of victory tour through Texas last week.
About 1,000 cheering for him to run for president met him in Arlington, near Dallas, imitating scenes from Houston and San Antonio.
Republican state Rep. Walt Rogers, a candidate for U.S. House, said he was a fan of Cruz's efforts to derail the health care act, but wasn't sure how it would affect Cruz's future.
"I liked what he did, but is that going to resonate with the whole party?" said Rogers, who is running for Congress in the 1st Congressional District.
Matt Barr, a Republican from suburban Des Moines, said he too liked that Cruz, but for shaking up the old guard.
"I think he's good for the party. He brings a new image to the party, a better image to the party," Barr said. "The old guard is on the way out."