HAMPTON, Iowa — It was supposed to be a low-key drop-in, a so-called "retail stop" in between the candidate's more high-profile events Saturday in Iowa.
But shortly after strolling into a coffee shop in this tiny northern Iowa city, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was holding court with a handful of supporters, a vocal number of them anxious to hear his take on some of the biggest news this week in Congress. It was the sudden resignation of House Speaker John Boehner, a growing target of conservative lawmakers who find him too willing to compromise with Democrats.
Cruz, for his part, did not go out of his way Saturday to crow about Boehner's departure, as he did a day earlier at an annual meeting of social conservatives in the nation's capital. But when asked about Boehner's fate at stops Saturday across Iowa, Cruz was happy to frame it in the context of his central pitch to primary voters.
"I think his resignation is a recognition of the undeniable fact that people across this country are frustrated with Washington and frustrated with Republican leadership because we keep campaigning, promising to fight for conservative principles, and then the pattern of Republican leadership over and over again has been to preemptively surrender to President Obama," the Texas senator told reporters before a speech Saturday evening in Thompson.
"I hope that message is heard by leadership in both chambers, by Senate leadership and whoever the next speaker of the House is," Cruz added, responding to a question about whether Boehner's resignation should be warning sign to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, another GOP leader dogged by his right flank.
Formally announcing his resignation Friday, Boehner cited the need to stave off "turmoil churning for months" stemming from a potential challenge for the gavel. While he and Cruz never directly clashed, Cruz has often advocated legislative tactics that pressured GOP leaders in both chambers to hold their ground on hot-button issues.
Asked Saturday morning in Urbandale if he felt he personally played a role in Boehner's decision, Cruz did not exactly distance himself from the idea.
"If the result of this leadership change is that we will get leadership that honors the commitments we've made to the men and women that elected us, then I hope I played some positive role in changing the culture of Washington," Cruz replied before dinging the media for wanting make Boehner's resignation about a "battle of personalities."
Later in Hampton, Cruz suggested Boehner's decision was related to the ongoing fight over federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which conservative lawmakers are targeting after the release of undercover videos that raised questions about the organization's business practices. "It's a big part of why the speaker of the House just resigned," the senator said.
Throughout Saturday, Cruz stopped short of wading into the House leadership races triggered by Boehner's departure. In Hampton, he insisted he would not meddle in the other chamber's business, but said the next speaker "should be a principled conservative and most importantly should be someone committed to honoring the commitments we've made" to the voters.
What about U.S. Rep. Steve King? asked one of his listeners at Rustic Brew, referring to the Tea Party firebrand from northwest Iowa.
"I love Steve King," Cruz replied. "Steve and I have become close friends because we've been side-by-side in the foxhole over and over and over again."
"It is a close question who leadership hates more — Steve King or me," Cruz added. "It might depend on the given day, but it's real close."