Is Ted Cruz running for president?

Every politician creates his own version of reality, but Cruz’s effect is particularly through-the-looking-glass. “Let me tell you what’s not getting a lot of coverage in the mainstream media,” Cruz told the Fort Worth crowd. “Conservatives are winning!” He pointed to legislation he had stopped—gun control, IMF reform—and public-relations battles, like the time last month when he “put out a long statement raising a series of questions” about the Federal Aviation Administration’s ban on flights to Israel; 36 hours later, “the administration lifted the ban.” And he pointed to fights still in progress, like the border bill and repealing Obamacare.

In reality, most Republicans believe Obamacare is here to stay, and the border-bill gridlock has merely emboldened the president to act unilaterally. In this year’s Republican primaries, fewer incumbents lost than in any year since 2008, a signal that Tea Party fervor has faded and the Republican establishment has retaken the GOP’s reins. A party that’s tired of losing national elections may be wary of the risky electoral bet Cruz represents, Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based Republican consultant, told me. “There’s an idea out there that he would be the next Goldwater, a belief that he would get beat in a general election,” Mackowiak said. “That’s a real threat to his candidacy.” Nationally, he added, Cruz is associated principally with the government shutdown, making him a symbol of a broken and despised Congress.

In the hermetically sealed world of conservative blogs and get-togethers, however, Cruz remains the hottest ticket.