From the start, Cruz and his political brain trust have divided the 2016 primary into four clear lanes: a moderate-establishment lane, in which he would not compete; a tea party lane, which he needed to dominate; an evangelical lane, where he had strong potential but little initial traction; and a libertarian lane, which began as the turf of Rand Paul.

“The players that were expected to be formidable in those lanes have not got the traction they had hoped,” Cruz said. “The most encouraging thing I would say is that I think three of the lanes are collapsing into one, which is the evangelical lane, the conservative tea party lane, and the libertarian lane are all collapsing into the conservative lane and we’re seeing those lanes unify behind our campaign.”…

Cruz, who again is in the midst of battling his own party leadership on Capitol Hill, this time over a potential budget deal that would lift the debt ceiling, is accustomed to such remarks. Asked if Bush’s comments were a badge of honor, the ever-cautious Cruz paused nearly 7 seconds before he declared with self-satisfaction, “It’s not surprising that he would attack candidates who he perceives as a threat to his brother’s campaign.”

Cruz’s Houston headquarters is brimming with confidence, and no date looms larger on its collective calendar than March 1. He was the first to recruit chairmen in all 171 counties in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada but his entire strategy seems centered on the SEC primary, when a set of conservative and evangelical states across the South will dominate the voting, including Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and his home state of Texas.