Will Ted Cruz, The Anti-Washington Crusader, Shut Down The Government?

With his poll numbers falling far short of those garnered by Republican presidential candidates who’ve never held elected office, Ted Cruz has a chance this week to prove he’s just as anti-Washington as his rivals atop the leaderboard — despite the “Texas senator” title that suggests he’s part of the political establishment. 

On Tuesday, Cruz could reprise his starring role in a congressional fight to fund the government, this time over taxpayer dollars going to Planned Parenthood.

But the White House hopeful’s stand against the spending bill is likely as political as it is principled. 

“For Cruz’s presidential campaign, the stakes couldn’t be higher in terms of the upcoming congressional showdown,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “He wants to be seen as a political outsider and, right now, he’s not gaining traction in the polls because he’s seen as an insider.”

It’s still unclear what Cruz plans to do when the Senate puts the continuing resolution to a final vote on Tuesday. Cruz’s Senate office did not reply to a request for comment, and he has not made any promises to embark on another 21-hour floor speech. But even if he decides not to put up a fight this time around, Cruz will have another chance to do so in December, when the stopgap spending bill runs out, conveniently just before the 2016 nominating contest kicks into high gear. Congress will also have to vote to raise the debt ceiling around the same time.

“December could be a make or break moment for Cruz,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Emma Margolin at MSNBC

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Analysis & Political Strategy