The impassioned speech delivered on the Senate floor Thursday by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet about the federal government shutdown quickly blew up online, accumulating millions of views and spawning calls for the usually unflappable Colorado Democrat to run for president.
Bennet derided Texas Republican Ted Cruz's "crocodile tears" over some first-responders going without pay during the shutdown in a 24-minute tongue-lashing that also took aim at President Donald Trump's pledge to build what Bennet termed a "medieval" border wall with Mexico.
“How ludicrous it is that this government is shut down over a promise the president of the United States couldn't keep?" Bennet said, his voice rising. "And that America is not interested in having them keep.”
Bennet tore into Cruz for leading a 16-day government shutdown in 2013, hampering services to Coloradans when the state was recovering from devastating floods that left eight dead.
He also excoriated the "tyranny" of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus and got in a shot at disgraced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the Illinois Republican who was imprisoned last year for a scheme involving hush-money payments to victims of sexual assaults Hastert had committed when he was a coach.
Within 24 hours, clips of the broadside had been viewed online more than 11 million times, officials at C-SPAN told Colorado Politics, making it the most-watched congressional video in the network's history.
All afternoon and into the evening, Bennet and his speech were trending on Twitter and other social media platforms.
"A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Bravo @MichaelBennet! #BarbecuedCruz," tweeted Mark Hamill, the actor famous for playing Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, who distributed a link to Bennet's speech to his 3 million followers.
"I feel like Michael Bennet just yelled on behalf of everyone who’s felt like they’re going completely insane for the past few years," tweeted Rachel Heine, editor-in-chief of the Nerdist pop culture online network.
The 59-year-old Bennet has said he's considering a run for president in what could be the largest Democratic primary field in memory, but speculation and encouragement exploded along with attention to his speech lambasting Cruz and the politics surrounding the shutdown, the longest in the nation's history. A deal to reopen the government for a few weeks was reached Friday.
Bennet's diatribe drew coverage and airplay from national news outlets, including MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell, who introduced a clip of Bennet's speech almost rapturously: "He reached into his soul today and provided a thing of beauty, perfection."
Tweeted NBC News reporter Jonathan Allen: "So, @MichaelBennet probably launched his presidential campaign on the Senate floor today. Not sure where this version of the mild-mannered Coloradan has been hiding, but it may soon be loose in a caucus state near you."
Some political pros called on Bennet to get in the race.
"Why isn’t @SenatorBennet running for President since everyone else is?" asked former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara in a tweet that linked to a clip of Bennet's speech and urged followers to "Watch this!"
"Really interesting question!" responded David Axelrod, Barack Obama's chief campaign strategist and a former senior White House advisor.
It wasn't just Twitter users who were looking anew at Bennet and seeing a potential president.
Washington Post national political writer Robert Costa tweeted late Thursday: "several top Democratic donors in California tonight are talking up Bennet for 2020, according to a veteran party hand there."
Not everyone was impressed.
"That was weird," tweeted the Denver Republicans, admittedly not a group that's previously counted itself as fans of Bennet. "Much prefer the quiet, soft spoken Sen Bennett... who often seems shy and introverted. Thought his display was very un-becoming of him. Sad to see his decline."
In an interview from the Capitol with NBC's Chuck Todd Thursday, Bennet acknowledged he was eying a presidential bid.
"I'm thinking about it, Chuck, like every single other person in this building is thinking about it," Bennet said.
Bennet said he was considering a presidential campaign because Trump has moved the country "in a terrible direction."
"He's an accelerant," Bennet said. "He was sent here to blow this place up. That's what people in my state who voted for him said. And guess what, they succeeded. But now we've got to pick up the pieces, and we've got to begin to make investments in the next generation of Americans again. So there's a lot of work for us to do going forward. I think there's ways of working on that here, and there are also way of working on that in a presidential campaign."
A source close to Bennet told Colorado Politics that the senator's sudden arrival in the spotlight could have an impact on his presidential aspirations.
"You can catch fire and increase your name ID overnight," the Bennet confidante said. "It's fair to say that accelerated everything."
The source added that the speech took off because it expressed something Bennet has been saying for years.
"It wasn't just the emotion, it was the message the government should be working, and politics shouldn't get in the way of government the way it is now and has been for some time."