Ted Cruz is a man with a plan. The Republican presidential candidate, bete noire of his party’s establishment, has carefully calculated a path to becoming the right-wing standard-bearer.

That makes him the most underestimated candidate in the field.

Cruz is rising in some polls and attracting more attention after the Republican debates in Cleveland on Aug. 6. The chattering class focused more on how well John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio or Ben Carson did in those encounters, along with the confounding staying power of Donald Trump.

But Cruz, whose political cunning equals his sharp intellect, may have laid the best foundation for advancing in this wide-open race. He touched all the conservative erogenous zones at the Cleveland forum and strategically refuses to say anything negative about Trump, the front-runner in early national polls.

Cruz relishes attacking his own party leaders. This makes him unpopular with congressional colleagues and other Republican eminences, but it delights many conservatives. He sees opportunities to delight them even more this fall with battles over spending and the debt ceiling. After debt-ceiling disputes shut down the government in 1995 and 2013, leaving Republicans reeling politically, party leaders want to avoid them. Not Cruz; for him, shutdown talk is a chance to thrill activists.