ORLANDO, Fla. — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz ratcheted up his criticisms Friday morning of his leading Republican rival, Donald Trump, painting the real estate mogul as "weak" on terrorism and an active participant in what Cruz has long labeled the "D.C. cartel."
"Donald's argument is that for forty years, he's been part of that corruption, but now suddenly we're going to put the fox in charge of the hen house," Cruz said, while speaking at an evangelical church in central Florida as part of an event featuring Fox News host Sean Hannity and former Cruz rival Carly Fiorina.
Cruz made what is likely his final stop in the Sunshine State before voters head to the polls on Tuesday. Trump is expected to carry the state and its winner-take-all delegates.
But the populist comments were tailor-made for three other Rust Belt states hosting primary contests on the same day: Illinois, Ohio and Missouri. Throughout the event at Orlando's Faith Assembly of God, Cruz was relentless, portraying Trump as an insider profiting off of the country's political dysfunction.
"I understand why people are backing Donald Trump. People are angry. They're betrayed," Cruz said. "They're tired of politicians lying to them. They're tired of the corruption in Washington. I hear all those things."
"What happens, though, is when people start to actually examine Trump's record, they realize he is what they're angry about," he added.
Cruz went on to call Trump a "special interest" who benefitted from perceived corruption perpetrated by the leading Democratic candidate for president, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Speaker John Boehner, a Republican.
"They take care of him, and he gets richer and richer."
He also blamed the success of Trump's caustic tone on President Obama.
"Donald's vitriol, his insults, I get they're cathartic," Cruz said.
"It feels good to yell," he continued, referring to frustration with the president. "But on policy, I have real concerns about Donald Trump's policies that he, I think is, he is far too weak on radical Islamic terrorism."
That word, "weak," is almost certain to incite a Trump response. However, Trump went to great efforts at Thursday night's GOP debate to tamp down his caustic engagement with Cruz or any of the other candidates.
Much of the event Friday morning was set up as a a taped interview between Cruz and Hannity. Later in the event, Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, joined Cruz on the stage. She endorsed him two days earlier.
Hannity asked the question on the minds of many in the audience: Is Cruz considering Fiorina as his running mate?
Fiorina interjected, noting that Cruz needs to focus on securing his own nomination first.
"You're jumping ahead here," Fiorina said, laughing.
Cruz ultimately sidestepped the question.
"I'll say this," Cruz said. "Carly is extraordinary."