Ted Cruz, The Barn Burner

In 2013, the audacious upstart shut down the government on a hopeless quest to stop the President's signature policy. Love him or hate him, he is a vision of the future

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Marco Grob for TIME

They don’t teach this stuff in eighth-grade civics class: a freshman U.S. senator from the minority party provokes a shutdown of the federal government in a hopeless quest to undo the President’s signature legislative achievement. The nation flirts with a potentially disastrous default while the populace looks on in disgust. And when the instigator tries to explain himself during one of the longest speeches in Senate history, somehow he ends up reciting Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham.

The faux filibuster to “defund Obama­care” waged by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas made him so unpopular with his fellow Republicans (Democrats scarcely concealed their delight) that they might have made him walk the plank—except that the GOP’s approval ratings were sinking so fast that even the plank was underwater.

Plus, anyone steeped in Washington politics could see that Cruz was already dead from this massive self-inflicted wound.

But to Cruz, 42, that is precisely the reason he believes he is winning. The young barn burner is convinced that “official Washington”—his umbrella term covering the old guard of both ­parties—is hopelessly out of touch with the voters, so he wears the scorn like a crown of laurel. If the Establishment says he’s finished, he concludes, he must be making headway. If they’re so sure he’s wrong, he must be doing something right.

“Changing Washington isn’t easy, and we shouldn’t be surprised when official Washington fights back,” he told Time in an end-of-year interview. “People who were used to making decisions in smoky rooms behind closed doors don’t know how to operate in today’s world, where people have direct access to information, can form their own opinions and know how to make their views heard.”

TIME Graphic by Chris Wilson, Sam Jacobs & Alexander Ho

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