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The coming Rand Paul-Ted Cruz brawl

(Salon) — Ted Cruz is off to a fast start. After just six weeks in the Senate, he’s already managed to earn a rare bipartisan condemnation for stealing the show at Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings in a performance that got him compared to Joseph McCarthy and profiled by half the major media organizations the country.

All in a day’s work for the Tea Party movement’s new darling, who’s stepped into a newly created void. Jim DeMint, Allen West and Joe Walsh are out. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin have lost their luster. And Marco Rubio is getting a taste for compromising on immigration. Cruz is only too happy to step up and take their place.

The National Review notes that “Cruz is rapidly becoming one of the most public faces of the [Tea Party] movement,” a status he had earned even before getting elected. Last summer, he was feted in a massive arena-filling, Glenn Beck-headlined, FreedomWorks-sponsored rally for his election in Dallas. “There is a great awakening that is sweeping this state, that is sweeping this country,” Cruz told the assembled masses. “New leaders who will stand and fight for liberty.”