Nightly News   |  March 07, 2014

Tea Party Boils Over at GOP Establishment

The rift between some of the nation’s top Republicans was evident. Sen. Ted Cruz took direct aim at Sen. John McCain.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> in this country there was genuine, palpable tension in washington among some of the top names in the republican party after a comment by republican senator ted cruz of texas rubbed some of his senate colleagues the wrong way. it had john mccain defending the honor of his former colleague, fellow decorated veteran and presidential candidate bob dole . we get more on all of it from kelly o'donnell.

>> reporter: one of the tea party 's most provocative figure.

>> of course, all of us remember president dole, and president john mccain and president romney.

>> reporter: texas senator ted cruz triggered a new republican rift, not with attempted humor, but with this pointed claim about principles.

>> they're good men, decent men, but when you don't stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don't stand for principle, democrats celebrate.

>> reporter: that brought out the worry today on andrea mitchell report, and bob dole is deeply admired by republicans as a hero and a choice for president in 1996 .

>> i wonder if he thought bob dole stood for principle on that hill top in italy when he was so gravely wounded and left part of his body there fighting for our country.

>> reporter: dole, who is in frail health chided him in a statement. cruz should check my voting record before making comments, i was president reagan 's strongest supporter. john mccain , who has had a tough relationship with cruz went up to him and said he and romney are fair game but told cruz not to go after dole.

>> i hope that ted cruz will apologize to bob dole .

>> reporter: but senator cruz did not apologize. today, his office released a statement saying cruz greatly respects the heroic military service of senators dole and john mccain , suggesting anything otherwise is just an unnecessary distraction. but added that cruz will not back down on matters of conservative principle. even if others may disagree. fuelling a battle that cuts across generations in a party struggle to find its future voice. kelly o'donnell, nbc news, washington.