Were the efforts of Mike Lee, Ted Cruz a fool's errand or a heroic stand?
At a subsequent meeting, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., asked whether Cruz would disavow efforts by the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group founded by former South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint that has been running ads in states with GOP incumbents, challenging them to support the "defund Obamacare" quest.
McConnell, who faces similar ads in his state as he seeks a sixth term next year, joined with Ayotte in questioning Cruz, who was noncommittal.
More recently, the Texas senator insisted that Senate Republicans could force a vote on a House-passed bill to ease the pain of the shutdown for military veterans, seemingly unaware of Senate rules. He didn't give a convincing explanation how that could be done, considering that the Republican Senate minority has no power to set the agenda. Cruz appeared to be resting his hopes on a strategic stumble by Reid, a 26-year Senate veteran.
Yet for all the internal back-biting, Cruz stands as the Teflon tea partyer, winning over conservatives.
At the Values Voter Summit this past weekend, an annual gathering of social conservatives and evangelicals, participants echoed Cruz and Lee's determination not to back down.
Lee brought activists to their feet when he said he was still working with Cruz to strip money from the law.
"We make no apologies. We stand with you," Lee said, drawing loud applause.
In imploring conservatives to remain vigilant, Cruz quoted the 1995 film "The Usual Suspects," and Keyser Soze's assessment that the "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn't exist." Cruz' variation: "the greatest trick the left has ever played is to convince conservatives we cannot win."
Cruz won the organization's straw poll on Saturday with 42 percent, well ahead of former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon.
Dennis Bussey, of Richmond, Va., said many conservatives are searching for a new standard-bearer and he was impressed by Cruz's reception.
"We're looking for someone — maybe not a hero but maybe we do need a hero," he said.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Andrew Taylor and Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.
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