AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn called Friday for inclusiveness among Republicans and suggested his party should be the "responsible adults in the room and actually govern" — a sentiment that stands in stark contrast to Texan colleague and tea party firebrand Ted Cruz.
Formally kicking off his campaign for a third term at an Austin beer garden, the Senate's No. 2 Republican insisted he wasn't distancing himself from Cruz, who has promised to fight for conservative principles no matter the cost.
But Cornyn also said always insisting on ideological purity wasn't the best approach. He even paraphrased former President Ronald Reagan in that agreeing with someone 80 percent of the time should make them "a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor."
"We need to return to that," Cornyn said.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry endorsed Cornyn on Friday, praising his experience and "senior leadership" before about 250 supporters, who enjoyed coffee and sweets instead of beer. Cruz was also invited but didn't attend. He has refused to endorse Cornyn, though his political action committee donated $2,500 to the elder senator's re-election campaign.
Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said he "is sticking to what he has said in the past, that he will likely not get involved in any incumbent primaries."
"Sen. Cruz deeply respects John Cornyn and considers him a friend and has a good working relationship with him," Frazier said.
The well-funded Cornyn has been in office since 2002 and faces no credible tea party challenger in the Republican primary in March. No Democrat has yet filed to challenge him next November.
But in an era when fears of being branded a RINO — Republican in name only — can make even the most battle-tested GOP veteran sweat, calling for more party inclusiveness may not be embraced by some in Cornyn's party. That especially goes for many of the conservative, grass-roots activists who have championed Cruz.
"To our friends on the other side of the aisle, maybe a few independents, folks who maybe aren't traditional Republican voters, we need to say, 'We're the party of the big tent,'" Cornyn said.
Later, Cornyn again mentioned the GOP's many factions, saying, "What we've seen is that when we're divided, we capitulate; we basically hand the victory to our political opponents."
"We need to demonstrate that, if the American people are willing to give us the opportunity in this next election to win that election, that we will be the responsible adults in the room. We will actually govern," he said.
Asked if Cruz, who helped spark last month's partial government shutdown, was an adult, Cornyn said he supported Cruz's opposition to the White House's signature health care law — but not the shutdown.
"We had a minor disagreement over tactics and that happens, but we all live and learn," he said. "I wouldn't make too much of that. I think we're all on the same page."
Indeed, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a statement Friday claiming Cornyn was on "Cruz Control" and embraced his colleague's key policy positions to solidify support from the conservative base.
"There seems to be a schizophrenia here," Cornyn laughed. "On one hand, I'm not enough in one direction and then I'm too much in another direction."