Presidential contender Ted Cruz on Friday unleashed a blistering broadside on his own party leader, accusing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of “flat-out” lying and saying that the Senate under his control has been no better than it was under his Democratic predecessor, Harry Reid. More surprising than the force of Cruz’s fiery remarks was where they occurred: the Senate floor, a place so dominated by decorum and tradition that senators are still discouraged from addressing one another by name.
“We now know that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment, that he is willing to say things that he knows are false,” Cruz said during a nearly 20-minute speech in which he bashed the GOP-controlled Senate for everything from funding Obamacare to confirming Loretta Lynch as attorney general this year.
The public attack was ostensibly prompted by McConnell’s decision to line up a vote to revive the Export-Import Bank, a relatively little-known federal agency that Cruz and like-minded conservatives have branded as government-subsidized corporate cronyism. But it also conveniently lines up squarely with Cruz’s larger presidential campaign pitch about promising to take on what he’s dubbed the “Washington cartel.” (Though it does call into question the Texan’s previous claim that he refuses to engage in “Republican-on-Republican violence.”)
Cruz’s decision to go ballistic on the Senate floor comes as he—and everyone else not named Donald Trump—has struggled to attract attention on the crowded campaign trail, and as many of his rivals for the GOP nomination have turned increasingly desperate to do so. Earlier this week, for example, Lindsey Graham tried to score some points by filming a video of himself destroying his Trump-doxxed flip phone, while Rand Paul took a chainsaw to the U.S. tax code. Cruz’s look-at-me moment wasn’t as blatant of a PR stunt—but it’s hard to believe that the Texan’s current eighth-place standing in the national polls didn’t have something to do with it.
According to the Senate historian Betty Koed, Cruz did not break any specific rules by calling McConnell a liar on the floor. Still, she told the Associated Press, “in more recent times there’s been very little of this type of behavior.”