Ted Cruz is the new leader of the Republican Party, said Michael Tomasky in TheDailyBeast.com. Scoff if you like, but while most Americans have nothing but contempt for the self-serving Texas radical who spearheaded the GOP’s doomed shutdown/debt ceiling strategy, Cruz is more popular than ever among the Tea Party faction. A new Pew Research Center poll finds Cruz’s favorable rating among Tea Partiers at an eye-popping 74 percent, against only 8 percent unfavorable. These same fired-up conservatives dominate the Republicans’ primary process, so while Cruz’s chance of winning the presidency in 2016 is about “as close to zero as any plausible candidate’s chance could be,” his odds of winning the party’s presidential nomination are substantial. The GOP must decide, and decide soon, whether Cruz’s angry, extremist rhetoric will define its message, said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. Republican hopes of seizing control of the Senate and keeping control of the House in 2014 could very well hinge “on the same single significant determinant: whether Ted Cruz stops talking.”

The real question is whether Republicans will stop listening, said Peter Grier in CSMonitor.com. Yes, Cruz may have thrilled the Tea Partiers with his doomed crusade against Obamacare, which made him, in effect, “the president of U.S. conservatives.” But the portion of Republican voters who identify as Tea Partiers was down to 35 percent last month, and establishment Republicans loathe the guy and blame him for the severe political damage the party suffered during the futile shutdown fight. Go ask Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, or Herman Cain if being the darling of the hard right is enough to secure the Republican nomination. Next time, though, said Erick Erickson in RedState.com, conservatives will not put up with another centrist chosen by the Wall Street/Washington establishment. Cruz speaks for Main Street Republicans who believe the growth of Big Government has actually brought America to an existential crisis, and who think we “must fight as we’ve never fought before.”

In the end, the GOP’s internal struggle is over “tone and tactics,” not policy, said Jeff Shesol in NewYorker.com. On the central issues of the day, the “extremists” of the Tea Party are merely repeating, albeit at higher volume, the same dogmatic positions the GOP’s “moderates” have staked out for years: abhorrence of Obamacare, adamant disbelief in climate change, loathing of government, and unquestioned faith in tax cuts and the free market. The Tea Party is nothing but “a crystallization, a highly potent concentrate, of the party’s belief system.”

But tone and tactics matter, said George Will in The Washington Post. What the Tea Party doesn’t understand—and mainstream Republicans do—is that in our political system “all progress is incremental.” No one wants to compromise, but the separation of powers built into our constitutional system prevents any one party or politician from gaining lasting control. To translate “intentions into achievements” requires patience, bargaining, and a willingness to adopt the strategy that has the best chance of success, rather than the one that provides the most dramatic and satisfying display of your convictions. For the sake of their party, and the nation, it’s time for the remaining “adults in the GOP” to explain to Cruz and his fans in the Tea Party that they have a choice to make, said Leonard Pitts in The Miami Herald. “They can have purity or they can have power. They cannot have both.”