By Cathy Burke
day after Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz suggested former GOP presidential candidates Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney “don’t stand for principle,” McCain shot back Friday, saying the fiery conservative had “crossed a line” and should apologize to war hero Dole.
“He can say what he wants to about me and he can say anything he wants to about Mitt,” the senator from Arizona said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
“But when he throws Bob Dole in there, I wonder if he thinks that Bob Dole stood for principle on that hilltop in Italy, when he was so gravely wounded and left part of his body there fighting for our country?”
Cruz, in a speech Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, told the crowd the three losing presidential candidates should have stood up for their views.
“All of us remember President Dole, President McCain, and President Romney, “ Cruz said facetiously.
“All of those those are good men, those are decent men — but when you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate,” he said.
McCain suggested Cruz took a cheap shot at Dole.
“Bob Dole is such a man of honor and integrity and principle,” he told Mitchell. “I hope that Ted Cruz will apologize to Bob Dole because that’s, that has crossed a line that, to me, is — leaves the realm of politics and discourse that we should have in America.”
“I said [to Cruz] if you want to, you know, say things that are critical of me and Mitt Romney, that’s fine. My beloved Bob Dole, as you know, is not in the best of health, and he doesn’t need that in the twilight of his years.”
Dole was gravely wounded just two weeks before the end of the WWII after taking enemy fire in his right shoulder and back. He lost a kidney, use of his right arm and most of the feeling in his left arm.
The 90-year-old former Kansas lawmaker defended himself after the interview, Politico reports, hammering Cruz for not doing his homework.
“Cruz should check my voting record before making comments,” he said in a statement. “I was one of President Reagan’s strongest supporters, and my record is that of a traditional Republican conservative.”
A spokeswoman for Cruz called McCain’s critique a “distraction,” according to Politico.
“As he noted in his speech, the senator greatly respects these men, particularly the heroic military service of Sens. Dole and McCain,” spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said.
“Suggesting anything otherwise is just an unnecessary distraction. He will not hesitate to talk about substantive matters of conservative principle that are important to bringing Republicans to victory – even if others may disagree.”
Fellow conservative and former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum sided with the defiant Cruz, saying the recent GOP standard-bearers simply weren’t conservative enough.
"How did it work for the Republicans nominating moderate candidates in the last two presidential elections?" Santorum said during his speech Friday at CPAC, the Washington Post reports.
"They put forth candidates who keep apologizing for the principles that they say they believe in, and then they lose."
Santorum came in behind Romney in the 2012 GOP presidential primary, and is a potential candidate in the 2016 run for the White House.
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