GREENVILLE, S.C. — Weeks of simmering tension between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and his GOP rivals for president boiled over on national television Saturday night, as real estate magnate Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio savaged him to his face.
"You are the single biggest liar," Trump said of Cruz. "This guy lied — let me just tell you, this guy lied about Ben Carson when he took votes away from Ben Carson in Iowa, and he just continues.”
He then accused the Cruz campaign of orchestrating robo-calls saying Trump has dropped out of the South Carolina race.
“This is the same thing he did to Ben Carson," Trump said. "This guy will say anything. Nasty guy. Now we know why he doesn’t have one endorsement from any of his colleagues.”
Cruz responded calmly: "I will say it is fairly remarkable to see Donald defending Ben Carson after he called him pathological and compared him to a child molester, both of which are offensive and wrong.
“Donald has this weird pattern: When you point to his own record, he screams ‘Liar, liar, liar.’”
The exchange overshadowed what would otherwise have been an astounding back and forth between Cruz and Rubio.
Rubio began by accusing Cruz of being inconsistent on immigration and said that his claims of purity on the issue were “just not true.”
Cruz countered by implying that Rubio delivered one message to an English-speaking audience and another to Spanish-speakers.
“Marco went on Univision in Spanish and said he would not rescind President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty on his first day in office," Cruz said.
Rubio's response: "I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.”
Cruz responded in Spanish but was largely drowned out by the audience.
“This is a disturbing pattern," Rubio continued. "For a number of weeks now, Ted Cruz has just been telling lies. He lied about Ben Carson in Iowa. He lies about Planned Parenthood. He lies about marriage. He’s lying about all sorts of things, and now he makes things up."
Calling an opponent a "liar" is one of the gravest accusations in politics, but it's one Cruz is intimately familiar with: He leveled the same charge at U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor last summer.
Beyond the men onstage, Cruz also scuffled in his first exchange with moderator John Dickerson over the process for seating a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away Saturday.
“Well, we have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year," Cruz said.
Dickerson interjected, pointing out that President Ronald Reagan appointed Justice Anthony Kennedy in 1987 and that the Senate confirmed him in 1988.
Cruz pushed back, reiterating that the nomination, not the confirmation, came down in 1987: "In this case it's both. But if I could answer the question —"
"I wanted to get the facts straight for the audience," Dickerson interrupted, to audience boos. "I apologize."
The Congressional Research Service confirms the Senate confirmed Kennedy on Feb. 3, 1988, in a 97-0 vote.