Strained relations between Ted Cruz and conservative media forces seemingly sympathetic to Donald Trump’s campaign finally came to a head Tuesday afternoon.
During a contentious ten-minute exchange, the Texan senator and conservative talk-radio superstar Sean Hannity got heated over the ongoing delegate fight within the Republican Party. On multiple occasions Cruz suggested that Hannity simply repeated the talking points of Trump fanatics—echoing a long-standing criticism of the Fox News host’s cozy on-air treatment of The Donald.
Over the past month, Cruz’s team has lobbied for and picked up a series of loyal delegates who are expected to side with him should the Republican National Convention go to a second ballot for its nomination. Even in states where Trump won—like Louisiana, South Carolina, and Georgia—his top rival has picked up some delegate pledges in the event of a runoff.
Hannity opened the interview by suggesting this shadow fight is the topic on every Republican voter’s mind.
“Sean, with all respect, that’s not what people are concerned about,” an already irritated Cruz shot back. “This… whining from the Trump campaign is silly.”
Hannity responded that his top-rated cable and radio shows have found a plethora of voters “confused” by the delegate processes and how Cruz can persuade Trump delegates to vote for the Texan on a second ballot. “It’s an integrity-of-the-election question,” Hannity asserted.
And then Cruz dropped the bomb: "The only people asking this question are hardcore Donald Trump supporters,” he said, suggesting Hannity—like the Drudge Report, as Cruz has previously alleged—acts as a mouthpiece for Trumpkins.
(Perhaps Cruz saw the ThinkProgress article chronicling Hannity’s 41 interviews with Trump, none of which made news or provided any tough lines of questioning.)
"Senator, why do you do this?” Hannity fired back at his guest. “You’ve got to stop. Every time I have you on the air, and I ask a legitimate question, you try to throw this in my face. And I'm getting sick of it!”
"Can I answer your question without being interrupted?" an exasperated Cruz growled, perhaps underscoring the growing rift between anti-Trump Republicans and the right’s Entertainment Class. "All of this noise and complaining and whining has come from the Trump campaign… They're screaming on Drudge and it's getting echoed” by sympathetic right-wing media outlets.
"It's not a Trump question,” Hannity objected. “It’s a question about what’s going to happen... I think people need to understand it.”
The senator declared that Trump’s campaign has failed to properly conduct the delegate fight at the grassroots level, noting how the front-runner’s camp handed out slates to supporters bearing Cruz’s name; or how he “screwed up” the Washington state delegate battle by sending emails to his D.C. supporters. "I cannot help that the Donald Trump campaign does not seem capable of running a lemonade stand,” he added.”
But Cruz’s rant didn’t end there.
“If you lose, don't cry about it. Go back and learn how to win an election,” he thumped his chest. “The Trump campaign is in a panic. They don't know how to handle losing over and over again, so they're screaming."
“What if the delegate selection doesn’t represent the will of the people?” Hannity asked.
“That’s why there’s an election,” a flabbergasted Cruz responded before his host interrupted.
“I don’t know why you’re mad,” Hannity lamented. “I’m just trying to understand.”
Cruz then took on a sudden peacemaking tone, as if to smooth things over with a spouse: “Let me be clear, I’m not mad,” he said before calmly explaining his irritation over Hannity “[asking] only about the nonsense. How about you ask… ‘How do we bring the jobs back’?”
He does often ask that type of fluffy question though—to Donald Trump.