HEADS OR TAILS?

11.05.14 1:00 PM ET

Which Ted Cruz is Going to Washington?

The Texas senator told The Daily Beast he was ready to work alongside President Obama, but he’s telling crowds of Republicans something altogether different.

AUSTIN, Texas—Sen. Ted Cruz, the stalwart conservative from Texas, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday night that he was ready to work alongside President Obama to ensure meaningful compromise with the White House. Then he stood up and essentially told a cheering Austin crowd that he would never surrender to the president.

Which version of the senator is going to return to Washington?

He earnestly explained to The Daily Beast how he hoped Republicans could find common ground with the Obama administration on corporate tax reform, for example. “For the last two years, the president has been unwilling to work with Republicans on anything,” he said from his room at the W Hotel in Austin. “Now I hope… the White House will stop being a partisan attack machine all the time and will work together on jobs, on economic growth, on opportunity. That’s where we should be working together.”

He emphasized the military sexual-assault bill and anti-Hamas legislation he had worked on with Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, but old roles are hard to shake. Cruz has built his reputation—and a national following—in part due to his willingness to confront the president, not for working with him. 

So minutes after his remarks to The Daily Beast, he walked over to the stage at a theater next door, and pledged before a cheering Republican crowd to “do everything humanly possible to repeal Obamacare”—an issue with which there is no prospect of working with the White House. 

Before hundreds of party faithful, Cruz mocked Democrats for trying to make Texas blue, and joked gleefully that there was a maintenance man already headed to Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office to change the sign on the door.

One of two Cruzes will emerge: It could be the Cruz who told The Daily Beast Tuesday evening, “It is very much my hope and intention to work with anybody, Republican or Democrat, to solve the real problems facing this country”; or it could be the Cruz would characterized the last few years to the Austin crowd as the “era of Obama lawlessness.”

The talk of compromise could be the result of the heady, pro-Republican results that streamed in from every direction Tuesday evening. Or it could be that Republicans are planning a campaign to show Americans they can be trusted to govern—perhaps even from the White House after 2016.

Sen. John Cornyn, currently the second-ranking Republican senator, certainly seemed to suggest this could be the start of a new era of Republican legislation. He pledged that governance is going to be a key focus of the Republican Senate.

“Campaigns are one thing, and governing’s another. And I hope we can separate the two,” Cornyn said. “We can only go halfway. The president’s going to have to meet us halfway, but I think we need to try. What we’re doing isn’t working. For anybody.”

Cornyn said that Republicans could find common ground with the president on trade agreements, patent reform, energy field, tax reform, as well as getting “some of the money that is parked overseas back here in the United States, and be used productively to create jobs here at home.”

It’s easy, however, to see how this fragile willingness to reach across the aisle could be shattered. If the president were to, despite the result on Election ˜ight, move ahead with an executive order on immigration reform—as ABC News” Jon Karl has suggested he will—it would be a slap in the face to this Republican sentiment. 

Cruz, for one, would be unlikely to stand back. Before the triumphant Austin crowd on Tuesday evening, he declared: “Now is the time to stand up to the president and say, ‘No More Amnesty.’”

UPDATE: "Sen. Cruz has made it clear that his priority is to reverse the damaging policies implemented under this President, which he will pursue wholeheartedly upon returning to session," Cruz spokesperson Catherine Frazier emailed Wednesday afternoon. "That in no way means he is unwilling to find areas of agreement where they can work together. It is wrong to suggest those two issues are mutually exclusive."