Cruz has ramped up his attacks on Republican leadership in recent weeks, trying to set himself apart from the rest of the Republican presidential field by painting himself as the only candidate who has stood up to the current political establishment. The Republican from Texas paints himself as an insurgent, even if he is a sitting U.S. senator who is more aligned with non-politician candidates, such as GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, who want to upend the current political status quo.
For months, Cruz has aligned himself with Trump in an odd political relationship as a way to harness Trump's supporters if they choose to not back the real estate mogul.
"Donald's campaign has been immensely beneficial for our campaign," Cruz said Sunday. "He's framed the central issue of this Republican primary as 'Who will stand up to Washington?' Well, the natural follow up, if that's the question, is: Who actually has stood up to Washington? Who has stood up to both Democrats and to leaders in their own party?"
Cruz says he is the only candidate in the Republican field who has done that.
"I think my record is markedly different in terms of actually standing up and taking on the Washington cartel," he said, noting he thinks conservative Republicans are "coalescing" behind his campaign.
That's partly because, Cruz argues, people are tired of Republican actions in Washington. Party leadership, he told "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd, voted to "fund Obamacare. Then they voted to fund amnesty. Then they voted to fund Planned Parenthood. And then Republican leadership took the lead to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general. Now, Chuck, which one of those decisions is one iota different than what would happened under Harry Reid and the Democrats?"
Cruz did not directly answer the question of whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should step down, saying McConnell has the votes in the Senate to stay.
"At the end of the day, it depends on where the votes are in the conference. Right now, Mitch has the votes to remain as majority leader. And so what I'm calling on — rather than focusing on individuals, you know, what the press always wants to do is turn it into a food fight and a personality battle," Cruz said.
The Republican also would not say whether he thinks Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who many in the House want to be speaker despite his insistence that he doesn't want the job, is a true conservative.
"That's a decision for House Republicans to make and for the American people to make," Cruz said.
Cruz also said he does not believe the United States should be involved in Syria's civil war, even as Russia has made a military incursion to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"We have no business sticking our nose in that civil war," he said. Cruz said the United States shouldn't "prop up Assad," but he said that some Republicans supported former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton's "disastrous" policy in Libya.
Moammar Gaddafi, the longtime ruler of Libya who was killed in 2011, "was a bad guy, but you know what? Libya is an absolute chaos and war zone where jihadists are battling back and forth," Cruz said. Todd asked Cruz whether the Middle East would be more stable if there were strong men in charge.
"Of course, it would. It wasn't even close," Cruz said.
"It wasn't even close that Libya, under Gaddafi, was better for U.S. interests than the chaos now that has allowed jihadists to gain strength," he said, noting "it wasn't even close" in Iraq under Saddam Hussein either.
Todd again asked whether autocracies and strong men are "probably better in the Middle East."
"It depends," Cruz said. "If you look to the example of Reagan, Reagan would speak out against human rights abuses. I don't think we should do what Obama and Hillary do which is quietly whitewash human rights abuses."