Unabashed Cruz in Iowa defends self on ObamaCare fight, against GOP establishment

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is charging ahead with his argument that attempts to dismantle ObamaCare needed to be part of the recent Washington budget negotiations and is firing back at the GOP establishment and others who say his tactics led to an unnecessary, partial government shutdown.

Cruz, who appears poised for a presidential bid, told hundreds at a GOP fundraiser in Iowa on Friday that efforts he led to “defund” ObamaCare will carry the fight through the 2014 congressional and 2016 White House races.

"One of the things we accomplished in the fight over ObamaCare is we elevated the national debate over what a disaster, what a train wreck, how much ObamaCare is hurting millions of Americans across this country," Cruz said at the Iowa GOP's annual fundraising dinner in Des Moines. “Senate Republicans didn't stand together. Had we stuck together, the outcome might be very different. The House does now, but I'm confident that the U.S. senate will in time listen to the American people.”

The Tea Party-backed, first-term senator appeared to further define his political future, saying he will continue to focus on grassroots efforts, like the town hall-style meetings he helped lead this summer to garner support to defund ObamaCare.

“For everyone who says we need to think about winning elections in 2014, nothing energizes [voters] more than a grassroots election,” he said. “We got our clock cleaned in ’06, ’08 and ’12. But we had grassroots in [2010.] Republican strategists say let's go back to ’06, ’08 and ’12. They say keep your head down; that's how you win. What complete poppycock.”

This was Cruz's third visit to Iowa, which is expected to hold the leadoff GOP nominating caucuses ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Cruz's crusader's spirit was the perfect example of what longtime Republicans in Iowa and nationally say is at the root of the party's losing ways and has sparked an intraparty fight over the way forward after consecutive losing presidential elections.

It's a conversation that's spilling out from backstage to behind the podium between national GOP establishment luminaries and state leaders around the country.

Although Cruz ultimately lost with the ObamaCare fight, he played a leading role bringing about the 16-day partial federal shutdown with his demand that President Obama gut his 3-year-old health care law. He also successfully urged a core of House Republicans to follow him.

The final and perhaps most important stop of Ted Cruz's recent public tour was less an exclamation point on a series of raucous events in Texas and more a presentation of opposite ideas for the GOP's way forward nationally.

Immediately before the Cruz spoke, five-term Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad barely acknowledged the guest and said the way forward for the party nationally was by way of the route cleared by Republican governors.

Branstad, 66, at the heart of Iowa's GOP establishment, called Cruz "a bright, up-and-coming senator" before turning his attention to the tangible successes of Republican governors, beginning with Cruz's own governor, Rick Perry of Texas.

"The results of conservative governors are making a difference," said Branstad, who is preparing to seek election next year.

He pointed to Wisconsin and Michigan governors moves to trim union rights as reasons for falling unemployment, and Texas' reduction in regulation for rising job growth.

Cruz, in his 40-minute speech, argued the health care law enacted in 2010 was the main impediment to economic growth. But he was vague after the speech about whether he would continue to try to defund the law in the future.

""What I think is critical is we keep the focus on ObamaCare, we keep the focus on the fact that this bill isn't working," he told reporters later.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CBS last week there will not be another government shutdown.

“Shutting down the government, in my view, is not conservative policy,” he said. “A number of us were saying back in July that this strategy could not and would not work, and of course it didn’t. So there will not be another government shutdown. You can count on that.”

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour in Iowa this weekend pointedly accused Tea Party-fueled refusal to support spending measures during the shutdown foolhardy.

Though Branstad wasn't as direct, he has shown little patience for Congress over the past month, especially the drama surrounding Cruz, and has called for broadening the party to make it more welcoming to voters who have turned away from the GOP.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.