HOUSTON — Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas and the face of the angry right, has been criticized, lambasted and lampooned for putting the nation through a 16-day government shutdown and the prospect of a financial default.
Drivers speeding down a busy highway about 70 miles outside Houston have been greeted with two blunt messages that Bruce Labay put up at his oil field services business. One declared that Mr. Labay was tired of softhearted Republicans, though he used a more colorful adjective. The other read, “We Need More Republicans Like Ted Cruz.”
Mr. Labay, 55, made his signs by sticking 1,200 plastic foam cups, one by one, into the loops of his chain-link fence, a 90-minute project that filled much of the fencing around BL Oilfield Services in the town of El Campo.
“I was proud of him,” Mr. Labay said of the state’s junior senator. “I was proud he was a Texan. I wish they would have held firm, and we’d still be shut down.”
Home states and districts are usually loyal to their senators and representatives in times of political crisis. But the continued support for Mr. Cruz among Texas Republicans illustrates something larger: the cultural and political divide that continues to widen between a red state that President Obama lost by nearly 16 points in the 2012 election and the blue or even purple parts of the country where Mr. Cruz’s tone and tactics have caused outrage and consternation.
“Texas is not America,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican political consultant in Austin and the former spokesman for Mr. Cruz’s Republican predecessor in the Senate, Kay Bailey Hutchison. “It’s in America, but it’s not America. National polls don’t mean anything. Democrats haven’t won a statewide office in Texas since 1994. There are no Peter Kings in Texas.”
In recent interviews here, Republican elected officials, voters and political strategists said the fact that Mr. Cruz and House Republicans lost their fight with the White House over Mr. Obama’s health care law was a side issue. What mattered, they said, was that Mr. Cruz, who had campaigned on shaking up the status quo in Washington, had fulfilled his promise. From local party leaders to county commissioners to Tea Party members, Mr. Cruz was praised for his courage.
“For a lot of us, this was refreshing,” said Mike Gibson, chairman of the Republican Party in Fort Bend County in suburban Houston. “We had a politician who said what he was going to do and then did it. Most Texas Republicans have been tired of our elected officials talking tough in Texas and then going to Washington and going along.”
Mr. Cruz, for one, said his Texas support has been uplifting. “The many supportive letters, e-mails, calls and social media comments we’ve received from Texans since Labor Day have been inspirational,” he said in a statement. “Hearing from constituents keeps me focused on the concerns of the people I work for and the issues I ran on. That’s what matters.”
Of course, not everyone is applauding, particularly Democrats in Texas, where Republicans control both houses of the Legislature.
“I just kind of shake my head and say, ‘I don’t believe this guy is for real,’ ” said State Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat. “Many individuals in his own party say he has helped the Democrats. I’m more concerned about what he’s done to the country than the good he’s done to any Democratic effort.”
Moderate and establishment Republicans in Texas privately grumble about Mr. Cruz and his handling of the budget fight. They criticize the wisdom of forcing a government shutdown over a health care law that the Supreme Court validated, and wondered how much of Mr. Cruz’s battle was done to benefit his presidential aspirations.
“I grit my teeth and bear it,” said a prominent Texas Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said he wanted to avoid an intraparty fight. “I really hope he implodes sooner rather than later.”
One of the few public displays of any Texas backlash came in an editorial on Wednesday in The Houston Chronicle. Headlined “Missing Kay,” the editorial criticized Mr. Cruz, whom the paper endorsed last year, for being “part of the problem in specific situations where Hutchison would have been part of the solution.” But even that criticism was muted. When news outlets reported that The Chronicle had “unendorsed” Mr. Cruz, the paper’s editors clarified that they did not pull their endorsement, but were evaluating the work of elected officials in an “active, ongoing process.”
The doubts from Texas Republicans invariably play out behind closed doors. They do not fear Mr. Cruz’s personal wrath, but that of his supporters and the possibility of a primary fight if they criticize him. Mr. Cruz won his Senate seat by defeating one of the most powerful Republicans in Texas, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a victory that exposed the ideological split between moderate establishment Republicans and the younger, more aggressive and conservative movement of grass-roots activists and Tea Party supporters.
One county commissioner in Collin County in North Texas, Matt Shaheen, a Tea Party supporter of Mr. Cruz’s who welcomed Mr. Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, to Plano at a Republican event on Tuesday, was asked what moderate Republicans were saying about Mr. Cruz. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I don’t hang out with the moderates.”
Mr. Dewhurst, who is now running for re-election against three prominent Republican conservatives, has tried to steer farther to the right after his loss to Mr. Cruz. In the aftermath of the government shutdown, Mr. Dewhurst complimented his former Senate primary opponent. “I give Senator Cruz credit for using every means available to draw attention to one of the biggest examples of Washington’s overreach, the financial disaster known as Obamacare,” Mr. Dewhurst said in a statement.
State Senator Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican who endorsed Mr. Dewhurst last year over Mr. Cruz but is now one of the three conservatives running against Mr. Dewhurst for lieutenant governor, said he supported Mr. Cruz’s stand and principles.
“Texas likes a fighter,” Mr. Patrick said. “He’s only been there 10 months, but he’s proven to be a fighter. If our party doesn’t lead as a bold conservative party, then we will disappear as a party.”