Sen. Ted Cruz's filibuster may have boosted his presidential aspirations, but it also created an opening for such potential 2016 rivals as Rep. Peter T. King, who Thursday called some of Mr. Cruz's supporters "vile."
"I'm not saying that Ted Cruz is responsible for all his supporters, but he has tapped into a dark strain in the American political psyche," the New York Republican said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
Mr. King, who has said he is interested in looking at a presidential bid, also called Mr. Cruz a "false leader" who is peddling a "false bag of goods" that's hurting the party. He said his office has received "vile" phone calls from Cruz supporters who back the Texas senator's call to block any spending bill until it defunds Obamacare — a deal Mr. King rejects.
The question of defunding the president's health care program has become an early dividing line in the 2016 campaign.
Speaking at the National Press Club last week, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suggested it would be bad for the GOP to link Obamacare funding to a shutdown.
"If you control one-half of one-third of leverage in Washington, D.C., your ability to influence things are also relative to the fact that you have one-half of one-third of the government," Mr. Bush said. "It's a reality. This isn't a hypothetical. So as we get closer to these deadlines, there needs to be an understanding of that, or politically it's quite dicey for the Republican Party."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who appeared at the same event, sounded open to the Cruz approach, saying the GOP shouldn't "take anything off the table."
Mr. Cruz energized conservative activists with his 21-hour filibuster, which ran from Tuesday afternoon to noon Wednesday, but it does not appear to have moved the needle among his Senate colleagues, who seem poised to pass a spending bill later this week, including funding for the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Cruz said a vote Friday will be a dividing line.
"Anyone who votes to cut off debate on this bill is voting to allow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to fully fund Obamacare," Mr. Cruz said.
A United Technologies/Congressional Connection Poll released this week shows that 63 percent of Americans want Congress to approve funding to keep the government operating past Monday, the end of the fiscal year, and then deal with the health care issue separately, compared to 27 percent who said the funding should be approved only if Mr. Obama delays or withdraws his health care law.
The divide was closer among Republicans, with 51 percent saying the issues should be taken up separately and 42 percent saying defunding Obamacare is worth a shutdown.
A CNBC poll released this week also found that, "a 54 percent majority of Republicans who also identify themselves as Tea Party supporters want the new health care law defunded even if it means a government shutdown."
"When the dust settles, those who did everything they could to stop Obamacare, especially Cruz, are going to be rewarded for their fortitude." said Keith Appell, a Republican strategist. "For Cruz specifically, he will shoot right into the top tier of Republican presidential hopefuls."
Before the filibuster, Mr. Cruz was a favorite of the tea party movement, but polls showed the 42-year-old was still relatively unknown by the broader electorate.
They found he placed toward the back of the pack among the 2016-ers — behind the likes of Mr. Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party's 2012 vice presidential candidate.
For his part, Mr. Ryan has kept his cards close to the vest in the Obamacare fight, telling The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle newspaper this week that he is waiting on the Senate to act before he makes up his mind.
"If they don't repeal Obamacare, defund or delay it, then we'll adjust our strategy accordingly and keep pressing for it in the House," he said.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has warned against a government shutdown, while Mr. Christie told CBS for a segment scheduled to air Monday, "I don't think you hear responsible Republican leaders advocating a shutdown of the government."
Mr. Cruz has found some allies among his potential rivals. Indeed, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida gave Mr. Cruz periodic breathers during his filibuster and said they supported his strategy.
Mr. Paul was effectively returning a favor to Mr. Cruz, who helped Mr. Paul early this year during his 13-hour filibuster against the nomination of John O. Brennan as CIA director, threatening to talk until the administration clarified its position on the use of drones on American soil.
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