It's no secret that Sen. Ted Cruz's quixotic effort to leverage the government shutdown and debt ceiling fights into an undoing of the president's health-care law didn't exactly make him Mr. Congeniality on Capitol Hill.
Democrats - and even many Republicans - have taken Cruz, R-Texas, to task for his hard-ball tactics, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., brought the criticism to new heights in an interview with the Huffington Post, calling Cruz a self-absorbed "laughing stock."}
"Ted Cruz, well, he proved he has a great fundraising operation," Reid said in the interview published Thursday. "But you don't have to have Harry Reid criticizing him. Republicans criticized him. What do you think that vote was last night from Republicans? That was a message to Ted Cruz: 'What the hell are you doing?'"
"He is a laughing stock to everybody but him," Reid continued. "What has he accomplished other than raising some money for president? And if this man can get the nomination to be the Republican nominee for president, I pity the Republican Party."
"Ted Cruz is smart," Reid said. "He has always been able to talk down to people. He is now in the Senate. People are as smart as he is. He can't talk down to anyone anymore. But he has still not accepted that in his own head. He still thinks he's smarter than everybody else. He might be able to work a calculus problem better than I can. But he can't legislate better than I can."
While most Republicans have been loath to criticize Cruz in such searingly personal terms, a great many have questioned his tactical prowess, casting doubt on the freshman lawmaker's decision to force a fight most in the GOP knew they couldn't win.} }
Among them: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who told the National Review on Thursday that Cruz's strategy to de-fund Obamacare during the shutdown fight "couldn't possibly succeed."
"It's really a matter of simple math," he said, pointing out that Democrats hold the majority in the Senate. "54 is more than 46. And, of course, when you add in the president, you knew it had no chance of success. So I knew we'd end up in the place where we ended up."
McConnell said he's not interested in replaying the chaos of the last few weeks, responding with a simple "no" when he was asked whether another government shutdown is possible when Congress approaches its next fiscal deadlines in early 2014.
"One of my favorite sayings is an old Kentucky saying, 'There's no education in the second kick of a mule.'" he said. "The first kick of the mule was in 1995; the second one was the last 16 days. A government shutdown is off the table. We're not going to do it."
But even as Cruz enraged much of Washington's political class with his crusade, it's becoming clear that he has only grown his following among the conservative activists that comprise the base of the GOP.
Jim DeMint, a former senator and now the head of the Heritage Foundation, which played a key role in fomenting opposition to Obamacare and pushing a strategy to defund it, defended Cruz and others who followed his lead in an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal on Friday.
Reciting a litany of complaints about the health care law, DeMint wrote, "These are the reasons we fought so hard to get Washington to listen to the American people and take action to stop ObamaCare, and it is why so many are thankful for the courageous leadership of people like Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and conservatives in the House of Representatives."