- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2016

The feud between the top Republican presidential contenders intensified Sunday, with Sen. Ted Cruz blaming front-runner Donald Trump for planting a sex scandal story about him in the National Enquirer.

The two men and their allies have been trading insults, threats, accusations and denials for days, including jabs at the candidates’ wives that have reduced the Republican race to a gutter brawl.

Amid the bickering over who insulted who’s wife, the National Enquirer rocked the Cruz campaign with an expose saying the conservative, Bible-thumping senator from Texas had cheated on his wife, Heidi, with five women.

“This story is garbage. It is tabloid smear, and it came from Donald Trump and his henchmen.” Mr. Cruz said on “Fox News Sunday.”

He noted that the only person quoted on the record in the article was Roger Stone, a former top political adviser to Mr. Trump, and that National Enquirer publisher David Pecker is a close friend of the real estate tycoon.

Mr. Cruz challenged the claim that Mr. Stone had parted ways with the Trump campaign.

“Roger Stone remains the henchman, the hatchet man, the enforcer for Donald Trump,” he said. “He’s pushing these attacks. And, by the way, he’s been pushing them for many months.”

It was the latest round in an increasingly dirty fight between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz.

Despite his anti-establishment reputation, Mr. Cruz has become the champion of the Republican Party’s “Never Trump” effort.

In an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Mr. Trump insisted that he had nothing to do with the National Enquirer story that said Mr. Cruz’s extramarital affairs included “a hooker, a teacher & coworkers.”

“I have nothing to do whatsoever with the National Enquirer, and neither did the campaign. And I will tell you, for him to try to say that I had [something] to do with it and put the shoe on the other foot is disgraceful,” Mr. Trump said.

He added: “And, by the way, he’s the one that started it.”

The reality TV star blamed Mr. Cruz for initiating the exchange of attacks about the candidates’ wives.

Those personal exchanges began when an anti-Trump super PAC called Make America Awesome, in an ad before Utah’s caucuses, used a revealing picture from a GQ photo shoot of Mr. Trump’s former supermodel wife, Melania.

In the ad, a nude photo of Mrs. Trump sprawled on a fur rug was accompanied by the caption: “Meet Melania Trump. Your Next First Lady. Or, you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.”

Mr. Trump insisted that Mr. Cruz was responsible for the ad and retaliated on Twitter with a threat to “spill the beans” about Mrs. Cruz.

He later retweeted an unflattering photograph of Mrs. Cruz juxtaposed with a glamorous photograph of Mrs. Trump. The caption read: “No need to ‘spill the beans.’ The images are worth a thousand words.”

Mr. Cruz, who denied involvement with the ad, responded by calling Mr. Trump a “sniveling coward” and demanding that he “leave Heidi the hell alone.”

Mr. Trump insisted that Mr. Cruz was behind the ad. He said Mr. Cruz or his campaign may have bought the rights to the photographs from GQ.

“There’s no way in a million years that super PAC did that without his absolute knowledge,” he said. “Don’t forget, I call him Lyin’ Ted. I’ve never known anybody that lied like Ted Cruz.”

The episode highlighted Mr. Trump’s prowess on Twitter, which detractors call unpresidential and responsible for lowering the tenor of political discourse in America.

Mr. Trump attempted to quell those critics Sunday, saying that if elected president he wouldn’t hurl insults at foreign leaders or domestic critics on social media.

“It’s a great way of communicating, as far as I’m concerned. But I’m not going to be doing it very much as president,” he said on the ABC show.” I will act in the best interests of our country. I will act to protect our country, whether that’s counterpunching or not.”

He said he was only “counterpunching” or responding in kind to attacks leveled against him.

Mr. Trump has broken ground with the use of social media in political campaigns, bypassing traditional news outlets and communicating directly to his approximately 16 million followers on Twitter and Instagram.

“It’s a new way of communicating. It’s very effective. I’ve been very effective with it,” Mr. Trump said.

He vowed that as president he would be more concerned with protecting the country than responding to detractors on Twitter.

“Our country’s going to be protected not like it is now, where we have nobody at the helm, where we have nobody protecting the interests of our country, where we’re being ripped off by every single nation in the world and we can’t even beat ISIS at war,” Mr. Trump said.

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