Ted Cruz’s meteoric rise, explained – Updated by Andrew Prokop on February 2, 2016, 1:24 a.m. ET

Xinhua/Yin Bogu via Getty

Xinhua/Yin Bogu via Getty

Yes, Donald Trump lost the Iowa caucuses. But the GOP establishment shouldn’t cheer yet — because someone they hate just as much emerged triumphant.

Ted Cruz has only held elected office for three years. But in that short time, he’s had quite an impact. He’s helped shut down the federal government. He’s wooed power brokers on the religious right. And he’s made a remarkable amount of enemiesin the capital.

Now, this Canadian-born, Cuban-American senator from Texas — who was unknown nationally as recently as May 2012 — has won the first Republican presidential nomination contest.

It’s not yet clear whether Cruz can duplicate his Iowa success in other states. Other recent GOP candidates who have relied on evangelical support, as Cruz did, have stumbled in other regions of the country. And the party elites who so loathe himwill fight hard to impede his rise.

But Cruz is now unmistakably a top contender in the Republican presidential contest. So it’s worth getting up to speed on his background — and on what his meteoric rise would mean for the party.

Cruz rose from an obscure childhood to top Republican elite circles

Rafael Edward Cruz was born on December 22, 1970 in Calgary, Alberta, to an American mother and a Cuban émigré father (making him, by scholarly consensus, an American citizen by birth). Around his fourth birthday, his parents split up — but they got back together a few months later after his father Rafael converted to Christianity and decided to change his life. His mother Eleanor, too, became born-again, and the family moved to Houston, Texas, where Cruz spent the rest of his youth.

By Cruz’s account in his autobiography A Time for Truth, he was a unpopular child, “too competitive and cocky about academics,” and “lousy at sports.” For his first thirteen years, he went by “Felito” (a shortened diminutive of his first name, Rafael). But, as Cruz tells it, “other young children were quite happy to point out” that his name rhymed “with every major corn chip on the market.” Eventually, he decided to go by “Ted” — a nickname he’s used ever since.

Around tenth grade, Cruz realized he was interested in law and politics — and, as he tells it, he became a staunch free market conservative. He joined a group called the Constitutional Corroborators, where he “spent hundreds of hours” studying the Constitution and other founding American documents, and learned economics from a group now called the Free Enterprise Institute. These experiences, Cruz wrote, “combined with my father’s life experiences fleeing oppression and seeking freedom, helped me realize where my passion lay.”

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