A day after accepting the Republican presidential nomination in a speech that signaled a more serious turn heading into the general election, Donald Trump ripped into former primary competitor Ted Cruz, revisiting their ugly feud over Cruz’s wife and father.
At a convention farewell event in Cleveland with running mate Mike Pence, Trump said he doesn’t want Cruz’s endorsement, blamed the Texas senator for making their wives fair political game, and said he had nothing to do with a conspiracy theory he promoted in the primary, that Cruz’s father had been seen with President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Trump’s tirade came after Cruz snubbed him in a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention, withholding his endorsement and later telling delegates he wasn’t inclined to support the nominee after the billionaire’s attacks on Cruz’s family.
The move renews questions about whether Trump will follow a more traditional playbook in the general election against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, or hang onto grievances from a bitter Republican primary campaign.
‘Didn’t Start Anything’
“I didn’t start anything with the wife,” Trump said Friday. The issue began when a pro-Cruz super-PAC ran a “risque” photo of Trump’s wife, former model Melania, in an ad in Utah, he said.
“Then when I saw — somebody tweeted a picture of Melania and a picture of Heidi, who I think by the way is a very nice woman and a very beautiful woman. I have to tell you. I think Heidi Cruz is a great person,” he said. “It’s the best thing he’s got going, and his kids, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said.
Of Cruz’s attempts to distance himself from the group’s ads, Trump said, “Folks, a lot of us are political people, right, we’re not babies. His people were on the PAC.” He added, “Now probably you could trace it down with e-mails but they’re pretty smart.”
‘Crazy Lee Harvey Oswald’
Of Cruz’s father, whom he dubbed “a lovely guy,” Trump said, “All I did is point out the fact that on the cover of the National Enquirer there was a picture of him and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast. Now Ted never denied that it was his father.”
Cruz and his campaign did deny his father, Rafael, a Cuban immigrant popular among U.S. evangelical activists, was the man in the photo. The nonpartisan fact-checker PolitiFact rated the alleged link a “pants on fire” inaccuracy.
“I had nothing to do with it,” Trump said. Referring to the tabloid magazine’s past coverage of the O.J. Simpson and John Edwards stories, he said, “This was a magazine that frankly in many respects should be very respected. They got O.J., they got Edwards.”
“I mean, if that was the New York Times they would have gotten Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting,” he said, arguing that the threat of expensive litigation dissuades the Enquirer from running untrue information.
“So now they use the two things as the reason he won’t support,” Trump said of Cruz’s camp.
Trump brought up the Oswald story on the final day of the Indiana primary race in May, when he and Cruz were still duking it out for the nomination.
“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being shot,” Trump said on Fox News on May 3, referring to a National Enquirer story the Cruz campaign had denied and called “garbage.”
“Nobody even brings it up,” Trump said. “What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death, before the shooting?” He also said it was a “disgrace” that Cruz’s father was “allowed to” urge Christians to vote for his son and saying the alternative could be the destruction of the U.S.
Cruz responded by calling Trump’s claim “nuts” and calling him a “pathological liar.”
Cruz lost the Indiana primary, dropped out of the race, and never formally endorsed Trump like some other failed 2016 Republican candidates did.
No ‘Servile Puppy Dog’
Cruz said this week he was “watching” and “listening” to Trump as the November vote approaches. He said he won’t vote for Clinton and isn’t encouraging his supporters to write in his name on the ballot.
“Stand and speak and vote your conscience — vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution,” Cruz said in his speech Wednesday, pointedly not mentioning Trump in that appeal.
The speech was met with mixed cheers and boos. Security escorted Cruz’s wife out of the arena after the speech, CNN reported. At least one Trump supporter shouted “Goldman Sachs” at her, the network said, a reference to her role as a managing director at the investment bank, from which she took a leave of absence during her husband’s campaign.
“I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father,” Cruz told Texas delegates on Thursday. His pledge during the primary to support the eventual Republican nominee “was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I’m going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say, ‘Thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father,’” Cruz said.
Trump initially brushed off Cruz, tweeting Wednesday night, “I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!” Reviews of Trump’s daughter Ivanka’s speech Thursday were glowing, and the nominee’s acceptance speech was regarded as relatively disciplined, if dark.
Cruz’s positioning has divided Republicans anxious to defeat Clinton and preserve conservative principles that some see as at odds with Trump. He is believed to be setting himself up for the possibility of a 2020 White House run.
If Cruz does challenge a sitting President Trump in four years, Trump said Friday, “maybe I’ll set up a super-PAC.” Turning to his running mate, he said, “Are you allowed to set up a super-PAC, Mike, if you are the president, to fight somebody?”
Trump Rips Into Cruz the Morning After Accepting GOP Nomination