It began, as most political fights do, with the image of a naked woman.
That woman, of course, was Slovenian model Melania Trump, who is married to aspiring president Donald Trump. And the image in question, from an early 2000s nude GQ photoshoot, was used in an ad from an anti-Trump Super PAC.
Trump used the ad as a means of stirring a fight with Ted Cruz, who he has taken to referring to as “L-y-e-n Ted” in recent weeks (with different iterations of the spelling).
“Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!” Trump typed out with his stubby thumbs Tuesday night. Cruz quickly responded with a tweet of his own, as all rational political debates between adults go, assuring that he had no involvement in the unsavory ad.
“Pic of your wife not from us. Donald, if you try to attack Heidi, you’re more of a coward than I thought. #classless” he wrote.
Cruz continued this line of attack during a stop in New York on Wednesday afternoon, telling reporters Trump is a disastrous choice for the party and to condemn his recent attacks as “gutter politics.”
(This is easier said than done coming from a guy who has faced accusations that his campaign has manipulated information to help him beat both Ben Carson and Marco Rubio.)
“We have grown to see a pattern with Donald,” Cruz told reporters when asked about the tweet-gate of 2016. “When he’s worried, when he’s upset, when he’s scared, he acts predictably. I will say even for Donald though, he reached a new low. It’s one thing to try to attack another candidate, it’s another thing to come after my wife.”
He said that his wife, an investment manager at Goldman Sachs, had experience dealing with bullies in her line of work, when asked if the comments hurt her feelings.
“Donald Trump doesn’t scare Heidi remotely,” Cruz went on. “That’s gutter politics. It’s not complicated that that’s gutter politics. Donald knows that.”
Yet Cruz also relented that the ad itself, made by the Liz Mair-led super PAC Make America Awesome, was uncalled for too.
“That ad was completely inappropriate and we had nothing to do with it,” Cruz told The Daily Beast. “It wasn’t our campaign. It wasn’t even a super PAC affiliated with us in anyway. It was a totally separate group. I don’t know the person who did it—we have no involvement with them whatsoever.”
Cruz suggested to The Daily Beast that this was a mere intentional distraction from Trump, who was distraught by his loss to Cruz in Utah last night.
“Donald knows that,” Cruz said, asserting that Trump knew the ad wasn’t from the senator’s campaign. “He just used it as an excuse to try to attack my wife, Heidi. And that is—that speaks volumes about his willingness to go to the gutter at the drop of a hat. His comfort zone is insults and personal attacks and bullying.”
During a campaign stop in Wisconsin, Heidi Cruz addressed the situation herself, saying: “You know, as I said, you probably know by now that most of the things that Donald Trump says have no basis in reality. So we are not worried in the least, we are focused on our campaign, and we are going to continue to do that.”
This was Cruz’s first strike against Trump in New York, taking the shot in the heart of Manhattan at the Women’s National Republican Club. In a gaudy ballroom, with a chandelier that wouldn’t be out of place at Mar-a-Lago, Cruz tried to paint Trump’s “New York values” as opportunistic, undignified, and plain dumb.
“I think we have an inherent advantage because the people of New York know Donald Trump,” Cruz said after saying that Trump’s comments about wanting to dismantle NATO were “nuts,” and beating home the point once again that the real estate mogul has contributed money to essentially every bastion of liberal politics in the state in the last two decades.
As the campaign wears on, all the ghosts of Christmas presidential past seem to be lining up around Cruz, seeing him as, ironically, the only potential option to defeat Trump. Lindsey Graham held a fundraiser for him earlier in the week, Jeb Bush endorsed him last night and former governor George Pataki happened to stroll into the same building where Cruz held his event in New York on Wednesday.
“The Republicans need to nominate someone other than Donald Trump,” Pataki told The Daily Beast when asked if he’d endorse Cruz. When he emerged from the building later, he simply said “we talked” when asked again about an endorsement.
The senator from Texas seemed incredulous about all these establishment stalwarts backing a candidate whose primary message is that he hates and is hated by Washington, D.C.
“I had never had someone host an event for me who three weeks ago called for my murder,” Cruz joked about Graham’s support.
But anybody appears like a better option than the guy with New York values.