The friendly fire directed at Sen. Ted Cruz from establishment Republicans is giving the Texan first-in-line status among Tea Party supporters and building a base for him to run for president, according to a new analysis from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“To the establishment, Cruz is the embodiment of all the forces conspiring to threaten the GOP's long-term viability. And, on a personal level, they also just can't stand Cruz: He drives them crazy,” wrote Kyle Kondik in Center Director Larry Sabato's popular Crystal Ball.

But, added Kondik, the “venom” directed at Cruz, whose effort to defund Obamacare led to a 16-day government shutdown, makes him an oversized hero to Tea Party supporters.

“Not pleasing the establishment is music to the ears of Tea Party activists, and if anything the shutdown has endeared Cruz even more to them. Assuming Cruz mounts a presidential bid in 2016 — he’s headed to South Carolina next week after his Iowa appearance last Friday (hint, hint) — the Tea Party could be a potent base,” he said.

Kondik took note of the Twitter sneers GOP old bulls fired off as Cruz spoke to Iowa Republicans a week ago. “[Mike] Murphy (@murphymike), an alum from John McCain’s rogue 2000 presidential campaign and a "Meet the Press" regular, was one of the establishment Republicans tweeting snark about Cruz during his speech,” he noted.

Murphy tweeted: “Sounds like we got trouble in River City… Good citizens, make your check payable to Cruz Against Soviet Healthcare. Or just ‘CASH’”

And that’s nothing new, said Kondik: “Ever since he’s been elected, we here at the Crystal Ball have heard groaning from Democrats and Republicans alike about how much they dislike Cruz.”

But could Cruz win the nomination in what’s expected to be a crowded field? A big hurdle might be GOP endorsements, typically from the establishment and to establishment candidates like Mitt Romney.

“At this point, it’s hard to imagine Cruz winning much support from party elites, so he’d have to depend on the Tea Party grassroots,” said Kondik, who noted that both parties have detoured with non-establishment candidates in the past and lost — the Republicans in 1964 with Barry Goldwater and Democrats in 1972 with George McGovern.

His bottom line: “Ted Cruz is riding high in some Republican/Tea Party circles precisely because he aggravates many high-ranking members of his own party. But his icy relationship with those party leaders might cause him problems if and when he decides to run for president.”

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at