"I would do anything, and I will continue to do anything I can to stop the train wreck that is Obamacare," said the freshman senator, when asked if he'd risk another shutdown. "What I intend to do is continue standing with the American people to work to stop Obamacare."
McConnell had publicly punted on the party's recent Obamacare defunding gambit and refused to intervene until the government shutdown was well under way and a debt default was nearing. Now he's publicly making the case and sending a new message: if you want to repeal Obamacare, elect Republicans to the Senate and White House.
"We have a math problem in the Senate in getting rid of Obamacare," he said. "It's the following math problem: 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans. We only control a portion of the government, and so that limits our ability to get rid of this horrible law."
Cruz doesn't care what McConnell thinks. The shutdown boosted his standing among conservatives and enshrined his hero status with the grassroots base that craves confrontation with President Barack Obama, and will elect the 2016 GOP nominee for president.
"I don't work for the party bosses in Washington. I work for the people of Texas, and I fight for them," Cruz said, in an apparent swipe at McConnell. He portrayed GOP senators as squishes and lamented that unnamed "Republican gray beards" want to implement Obamacare and "inflict a bunch of harm on the American people and hope we benefit politically from it. What a terrible cynical approach."
The internal GOP power struggle is shaping up to be a major factor in the coming Jan. 15 deadline to finance the government or face another shutdown. McConnell's remarks appeared to be a warning shot that he won't put up with Cruz's antics again. But "old guard" Republicans remain at a loss for how to sideline the senator and his allies without facing the wrath of the conservative base they depend on to win elections.
"Serious question: Is there a mechanism for any Republicans to hold Heritage Action, Senate Conservative Fund, Americans for Limited Government or Red State accountable? Dare you. Double dog dare you," said an aide to a veteran GOP senator. "Bob Corker can call out Cruz and [Utah Sen. Mike] Lee, and Heritage Action says Corker's no longer a Republican."
The GOP aide suggested the party chiefs need to be more aggressive in targeting Cruz and company's supporters. "Can you get to donors? That's the question," the aide said. "It's about [Republican National Committee Chairman] Reince Priebus going after their donors."
McConnell in particular is caught in a bind, fending off both a self-funded primary challenger and a Democratic candidate for re-election in 2014 while seeking to preserve his party's hopes of winning the Senate majority. Asked about Cruz's "quixotic venture" by the National Review after the shutdown ended, he deadpanned, "I don't have any observations to make on that."
(McConnell spoke Sunday on CBS' "Face The Nation." Cruz spoke on ABC's "This Week" and CNN's "State of the Union.")