Presidential candidate and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio speaks to voters in North Carolina on February 16, 2016 in Summerville, South Carolina.
Spencer Platt—Getty Images
By Zeke J Miller / Summerville, S.C.
Updated: February 16, 2016 7:01 PM ET

Florida Senator Marco Rubio accused rival Texas Senator Ted Cruz of engaging in a “pattern” of peddling falsehoods, telling reporters Tuesday it speaks to the character of Cruz’s campaign and suggesting they would disqualify Cruz from the White House if they continue.

Speaking to reporters during a lunchtime stop at Triangle Char Bar in Summerville, S.C., the GOP hopeful criticized Cruz for arguing he was in favor of “amnesty” and calling him an inconsistent conservative. His comments come a day after a pro-Cruz group was forced to pull an ad from local television stations following legal review into its questionable claims about Rubio.

“This has been a pattern now with Ted, he has spent the last two weeks literally just making stuff up,” Rubio said. “I just think it’s very disturbing you can just come and make things up about people and believe no one is going to call you out on it. And it’s now become a pattern. So we have to clarify that we can’t let that stand unchallenged.”

“When it becomes a pattern, people need to know everything else this person says is questionable as well,” Rubio added.

Rubio, who is hoping to leapfrog Cruz for second place in South Carolina, said the attacks, combined with the Cruz campaign’s caucus-night effort to spread false reports that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race, speak to the “character of his campaign.”

“What they’ve been willing to do as part of their campaign, whether it’s the Ben Carson thing in Iowa or some of the things that are going on now, it’s very disturbing,” he said. “I think people aren’t going to like it the more they learn about it.”

Asked whether Cruz’s statements are personally disqualifying for the presidency, Rubio said, “If it continues I think ultimately that’s true, yes.”

Rubio also criticized Cruz for pledging to grow the size of the military in a speech outside Charleston Tuesday, saying Cruz had voted repeatedly against defense spending bills in the Senate. “He’s very weak on national security and knows that’s a liability in South Carolina so he’s being untruthful about that.”

Rubio’s counterpunch follows a similar line of attack from Donald Trump on Cruz on Monday, in which the GOP front runner held a 40-minute press conference around the theme of Cruz’s supposed dishonesty. The criticism is designed to undercut a central theme of Cruz’s campaign — his slogan used in countless ads and mailers is “TrusTed” — and has contributed to him possessing among the lowest net favorability ratings of the field.

Cruz spokesman Brian Phillips fired back at Rubio in a statement Tuesday. “Everything Ted Cruz said at the debate about Marco Rubio’s record is 100% accurate,” he said. “Rubio just yells ‘liar’ because he can’t specifically refute any of the charges. The facts are Rubio continues to support amnesty, supported in-state tuition for illegals, missed both votes to defund Planned Parenthood in the spending bill, told Univision that he wouldn’t repeal Obama’s executive amnesty, and said that Americans must abide by the gay-marriage decision. Whether the junior Senator from Florida likes it or not, that is his record.”

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