"Lyin' Ted Cruz". Those are the words with which Donald Trump launched an attack on his rival for the Republican presidential nomination, triggering an ugly, late-night Twitter spat - over their wives.
It all started with Trump getting, well, pissed off. The anti-Trump Super PAC Make America Awesome used a semi-nude photo of his wife Melania -- taken for a GQ shoot back when she was a model in 2010 and republished recently -- in an attack ad.
Presuming it to be the handiwork of his rival's campaign, Trump threatened to "spill the beans" on Cruz's wife. Legally, Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate with the campaign of the candidate they support, but that's mere eyewash.
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!- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
But after building up the suspense, all the "beans" Trump could spill was a retweet of a misogynist meme.
"Lyin' Ted Cruz" though he has turned into a weapon, repeatedly deploying it to attack Cruz on Twitter.
Lyin' Ted Cruz denied that he had anything to do with the G.Q. model photo post of Melania. That's why we call him Lyin' Ted!- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
Cruz didn't take the insults lying down, retaliating with a barrage of tweets of his own. The first one went, "you are more of a coward than I thought."
Then Cruz, who is trailing far behind Trump in the primary race, tried to claim the moral high ground. Campaigning in Wisconsin, he simply said "real men don't attack women" when asked about the spat.
Donald, real men don't attack women. Your wife is lovely, and Heidi is the love of my life. https://t.co/pprXhIMzUT- Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 24, 2016
But the feud did not end there. Trump returned to Twitter to pin the blame for the spat on Cruz: "I didn't start the fight." (Just for the fun of it, while reading the tweet, imagine Trump singing "We Didn't Start the Fire".)
I didn't start the fight with Lyin'Ted Cruz over the GQ cover pic of Melania, he did. He knew the PAC was putting it out - hence, Lyin' Ted!- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2016
This is Trump's ground. No one is better at arresting attention than the eccentric billionaire. He has dominated news cycles saying inane things on the campaign trail, often pushing the boundaries of acceptable discourse. It has helped him take a commanding lead over Cruz in the primaries, every win taking him closer to the nomination.
Trump always makes it personal. He thrives on it, in fact. As Vox explains: "Cruz also had a strong news cycle after the attacks in Brussels, calling for a need to 'patrol' Muslim neighborhoods - a statement that resonated with voters who supported Trump's similarly acerbic statement about banning Muslims immigration."
In response, Trump went after Heidi Cruz.
Whenever someone has stood up against Trump, whether the anchor Megyn Kelly at the first Republican presidential debate or Marco Rubio later, Trump has responded with personal attacks. While Kelly was called a bimbo, no one can forget the sexual innuendos about "Little Marco".
Now, Trump has gone after Cruz, even starting a #LyingTed hashtag. Take a look at some of these tweets:
I think having Jeb's endorsement hurts Lyin' Ted. Jeb spent more than $150,000,000 and got nothing. I spent a fraction of that and am first!- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
Wow, just released that $67 million in negative ads was spent on me. How am I still number one - by a lot?- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2016
In the end, Cruz just told Trump to "leave Heidi alone".
Ted Cruz: 'Donald, you're a sniveling coward and leave Heidi alone.' pic.twitter.com/0V3Xd8QOGT- POLITICO (@politico) March 24, 2016
"And if Donald wants to get into a character fight, he is better off sticking with me," Cruz told CNN, stealing a line from Michael Douglas, "because Heidi is way out of his league."
Of course, it didn't go without a comment from Trump.
Lyin' Ted Cruz steals foreign policy from me, and lines from Michael Douglas- just another dishonest politician.- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
Trumpmemtum, to steal a phrase from Vox, feeds on such nastiness to get stronger. So, expect it to only get uglier. If it too much for you sensibilities, well, you can always opt for the more restrained Clinton-Sanders slugfest.
Edited by Mehraj D. Lone