Is this the new McCarthyism? Ted Cruz's innuendo war against Hagel

Sen. Joseph McCarthy's (R-Wis) at a March 9, 1950 session of a hearing on  McCarthy's charges of Communist infiltration in the state department. McCarthy, testifying before a senate foreign relations subcommittee, termed the subcommittee a "Tool" of...
Sen. Joseph McCarthy's (R-Wis) at a March 9, 1950 session of a hearing on McCarthy's charges of Communist infiltration in the state department. McCarthy,...

It looks like Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is taking a page out of former Sen. Joe McCarthy’s playbook.

The Texas lawmaker and Tea Party favorite grilled Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel this week, accusing him of being cozy with both Iran and North Korea.

Hardball host Chris Matthews said the rhetoric reeked of innuendo and guilt-by-association--reminiscent of the tactics used by former Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who notoriously accused politicians and other public figures of being Communist sympathizers.

Cruz “looks like a prosecutor, not a senator,” said Matthews. “He’s prosecuting him for political purposes.”  He later added, “This is McCarthyism. There’s no other word for it.”

During Hagel’s Congressional hearing on Tuesday, Cruz said he witnessed something “truly extraordinary, which is the government of Iran formally and publicly praising the nomination of a defense secretary. I would suggest to you that to my knowledge, that is unprecedented to see a foreign nation like Iran publicly celebrating a nomination.”

What really happened? At his weekly news conference, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman was asked about Hagel’s views on Israel and U.S. sanctions on Iran. The spokesman said, “We hope there will be practical changes in American foreign policy and that Washington becomes respectful of the rights of nations.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement or a secret handshake from a fellow traveler.

Similarly, after newsman Edward R. Murrow exposed McCarthy’s tactics, the Wisconsin senator used a favorable TV review in a Communist newspaper as evidence of Murrow’s own questionable loyalties.  The publication “lists Mr. Murrow’s program as one of tonight’s best bets on TV,” declared McCarthy. Again, guilt by association.

Cruz took another recent jab at Hagel, saying he may have received $200,000 from North Korea.

“He could not even say that the $200,000 he received did not come directly from a foreign government…It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea."

In his 1953 hearing to investigate the Voice of America Communist infiltration, McCarthy used innuendo while trying to discredit a State Department employee by suggesting his choice of legal representation, two decades before, made him a suspect.

Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News told Matthews that Cruz is employing a “six degrees of separation” questioning tactic “to plant a false idea,” adding: “I think it is an amazing approach and when used recklessly…invites the idea that he might look a little bit like Joe McCarthy."

The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson said Cruz seemed more concerned with having good sound bytes on conservative networks and seemed to be “auditioning to be a Jim DeMint with an attitude.” Republicans including Cruz, she said,  “are trying to further chip away at Hagel and hope something will stick and another shoe will drop” to obstruct his confirmation.

On Thursday, Senate GOPers blocked Hagel’s nomination, filibustering his confirmation vote on the basis of supposedly wanting to have more time to review the Nebraskan’s speeches and financial records. The confirmation vote will be delayed at least a week.

Watch the video above for more examples of the similarities between McCarthy and Cruz.