Senator Ted Cruz has been in the news a lot and with a looming vote on defunding Obamacare, he will continue to be in the spotlight. Cruz has called for GOP lawmakers to use any tool they can to defund Obamacare. The Washington Post says that this week is the most important week in his career.

Say what you want about Ted Cruz (and people say lots of things — both good and bad) but the Texas Republican has spent his first nine months in the Senate drastically raising his national profile with nary a slip-up along the way.

That is, until last week when Cruz found himself publicly cross-wise with House Republicans over his oft-repeated demand to give him a chance to defund Obamacare. The House passed a bill that did just that and Cruz quickly released a statement insisting that it was unlikely that he would be able to defund the law in the Senate. (He repeated that sentiment Sunday; “The House is the only body where Republicans have the majority, so the House has to lead on this,” Cruz said on “Fox News Sunday”.)

House Republicans, notably, have sneered at Cruz’s assertion that he has no power to keep the defunding provision in the legislation (“Thank God he wasn’t there fighting at the Alamo,” said Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin) and insisted publicly that the ball was now in the court of the Senate GOP.

And so, as the attention turns to the Senate this week in the ongoing fight over whether the government will remain open past Sept. 30 (it might not) and if President Obama’s health-care law will be defunded (it won’t), the question is whether Cruz can bounce back from the only major stumble he’s experienced to date.

Cruz has shown a remarkable adeptness at playing the outside game, burnishing his credentials as someone who doesn’t know or care about the ways of Washington because those ways are broken and don’t serve the public. But, this is a week in which Cruz will need to show some level of dexterity at the inside game as well. For those who would dismiss the importance of the inside game, remember that while your own party establishment probably can’t keep you from a presidential nomination, they can make it a heck of a lot harder to win one.

To be clear: A Cruz bounce back should not be judged solely on whether he can round up the 40 additional votes necessary to keep a bill that keeps the government funded but strips the Obamacare defunding off the floor of the Senate. Unless there is a major shift among Republicans in the Senate, Cruz won’t be able to find those 40 votes.

Instead, they key to measuring Cruz’s success will be what approach he takes to making his opposition to Obamacare known and what (if any) impact it has. Does Cruz launch a traditional talking filibuster, a doomed but principled effort to show how strongly he opposes the measure? If he doesn’t, is he able to convince/cajole a handful of wavering Republican senators to vote against cloture? Can Cruz make enough of a stand in the Senate to stiffen the spines of House Republicans — assuming the legislation, sans defunding Obamacare, is headed their way some time in the next week?

Cruz seems little interested in making nice with his colleagues — Democrats or Republicans. And, that’s fine — heck, it probably works in his favor politically at a time when people loathe political Washington and its inhabitants. But, what Cruz must prove this week is that he’s more than just talk; that when he has the chance to act on principle, he does everything he can to do exactly that.

In short: It’s put up or shut up time for Ted Cruz this week.

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