(CNN) — Sen. Ted Cruz is no longer limiting his speaking engagements to friendly GOP events and marathon talks on the Senate floor, appearing for the first time Friday on late-night television.
The Texas Republican was on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” to talk about his growing reputation as a tea party firebrand and his stances on issues such as Obamacare and same-sex marriage.
Cruz has fast become one of the most outspoken critics of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
He fed 2016 speculation as one of the leaders of the Defund Obamacare movement in Congress, an effort that helped precipitate the partial government shutdown when Democrats flatly refused to pass a government funding bill that also sought to destroy the health care law.
For Cruz, the shutdown blame was and has been all on the Democrats. “I said throughout, we shouldn’t shut down the government,” he said Friday.
The shutdown happened only because Democrats “said ‘we will not negotiateand we will not compromise,’ ” Cruz said.
Democrats said that negotiating under duress was not negotiation and that the blame falls to Cruz and other Republicans’ uncompromising crusade against Obamacare.
That crusade gained Cruz intense ire from Democrats and even some Republicans, a situation that seemed to suit him just fine Friday. Asked by Leno about descriptions of the freshman senator as aggressive, arrogant and abrasive, Cruz said, “Don’t believe everything you read.”
“What I’m trying to do is do my job,” he said. “And occasionally people don’t like it.”
Cruz again tried to don a Reagan-esque mantle Friday, claiming that the Gipper launched a “grass-roots revolution” in the Republican Party in the 1980s. The clear implication is that Cruz believes he has spawned his own grass-roots revolution against Obamacare, boasting of gaining 2 million signatures on a petition against the health care law.
On that topic, Cruz continued to maintain his tried-and-true talking points: that the law is destructive and harmful, costing people jobs and money on their premiums.
Cruz avoided accusations of only wanting to do away with health care reform.
“I’m a big believer in health care reform,” Cruz said.
“I think we ought to reform health care so it’s personal, it’s portable, it’s affordable. We ought to empower patients rather than government bureaucrats getting between you and your doctor.”
Cruz also touched on some of the debate surrounding his father, Rafael Cruz, a businessman and evangelical pastor who’s made a number of controversial comments, including calling on President Barack Obama to be sent “back to Kenya.” The two have frequently campaigned together, and Cruz has often called his father his inspiration.
The comments that Cruz responded to Friday involved his father’s opposition to same-sex marriage, an opposition the younger Cruz shares. But he has said he feels that the issue is one that should be determined state to state.
Politics is a dirty game, Cruz acknowledged.
“Some folks have decided to try to go after him because they want to take some shots at me,” Cruz said.
“But I think the critics are better off attacking me.”
By CNN’s Bryan Koenig