The already ugly race for the Republican presidential nomination took yet another nasty turn Friday, as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz accused rival Donald Trump of planting a National Enquirer story that alleged he has had multiple extramarital affairs.
The latest issue of the supermarket tabloid reported that Cruz has “five secret mistresses” and printed pixelated photos of the alleged paramours, with black bars obscuring their eyes. Published Thursday after weeks of rumors about the leader of the anti-Trump movement in the GOP primary, the story rumbled through the political world and burst onto Twitter, where some users have played a parlor game trying to identify the women.
On Friday, Cruz brought up the story unsolicited during a campaign stop in Wisconsin, blaming Trump — or as he called him, “Sleazy Donald” — for spreading false rumors about his personal life. And the Texas senator later posted a statement on Facebook, condemning the story as “completely false” and “offensive” to him, his wife, Heidi, and their two daughters.
“I want to be crystal clear: These attacks are garbage,” Cruz wrote. “For Donald J. Trump to enlist his friends at the National Enquirer and his political henchmen to do his bidding shows you there is no low Donald won’t go. … Donald Trump’s consistently disgraceful behavior is beneath the office we are seeking.”
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Jacquelyn Martin/AP, no credit, Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Trump, in a statement, insisted he had nothing to do with the story.
“I have no idea whether or not the cover story about Ted Cruz in this week’s issue of the National Enquirer is true or not, but I had absolutely nothing to do with it, did not know about it, and have not, as yet, read it,” Trump said. “Likewise, I have nothing to do with the National Enquirer and, unlike Lyin’ Ted Cruz, I do not surround myself with political hacks and henchmen and then pretend total innocence.”
But Trump couldn’t resist mentioning the other scandals the tabloid had correctly broken — including former Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards’ affair with a one-time campaign aide that resulted in a child. He also made a random mention of disgraced football star O.J. Simpson, a former Trump buddy who was later accused of brutally killing his ex-wife and her friend in one of the most notorious murder cases in history.
“Ted Cruz’s problem with the National Enquirer is his and his alone, and while they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin’ Ted Cruz,” Trump added.
To back up their claim that Trump and his supporters were behind the National Enquirer story, Cruz aides charge that “Trump, through surrogates,” had been “seeding Twitter” with mentions of an impending “relationship story” between Cruz and Katrina Pierson, a former tea party activist who had been a consultant for Cruz’s Senate campaign and is now a spokeswoman for Trump, according to a campaign memo obtained by Yahoo News. Pierson has repeatedly denied the allegations, seemingly putting her at odds Friday with her own boss, who said they might or might not be true.
Indeed, for several weeks, Republican consultants and Trump supporters on Twitter have been mysteriously referring to an impending Cruz scandal they called “the Thing.”
On March 12, the Cruz campaign memo states, Political Insider ran a story indicating that a Cruz/Pierson story “will drop in the near future.” It was headlined: “BREAKING: A Ted Cruz SEX SCANDAL Appears to be Looming?”
Ted Cruz embraces his wife, Heidi, during a campaign stop Friday in Oshkosh, Wis. (Photo: Darren Hauck/AP)
Then, on March 14, the Cruz memo states, former Trump consultant Roger Stone, who continues to promote the reality TV star’s candidacy, “appears on Alex Jones’ Infowars show teasing a looming Cruz sex scandal.”
The memo goes on to say that Stone “is a longtime confident of Trump” whose relationship with him is “highlighted by sleazy tactics.” It calls Stone, whose days as a Republican activist date back to the Nixon era, is an “admitted notorious liar,” citing as evidence a New York Magazine profile titled “The Dirty Trickster.”
Speaking to reporters in Wisconsin, Cruz noted that Stone was the only person quoted by name in the Enquirer story. “Mr. Stone is a man who has 50 years of dirty tricks behind him.” Cruz said.
Stone did not respond to email and phone requests for comment, but responded to Cruz on Twitter, writing, “Now Lyin’ Ted is even lyin’ about me.”
Pierson first responded to reports of the reports about a “looming” sex scandal, which were illustrated with pictures of her and Cruz, on March 15. “Political hacks … couldn’t even come up with a plausible scandal,” she wrote on Twitter. “The absurdity is obvious.”
On Friday, Pierson again denied that she had had an affair with Cruz. “Of course, the National Enquirer story is 100% FALSE!!!” she wrote. “I speak only for myself, however.”
The increasingly vitriolic exchanges between Trump and Cruz began Tuesday, when the real estate mogul and GOP frontrunner issued a threat to his rival via Twitter, accusing him of using a provocative photo of his wife, Melania, in an ad attacking his campaign. “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a GQ shoot in his ad,” Trump wrote. “Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!”
The ad Trump objected to was actually paid for by small anti-Trump super-PAC called “Make America Awesome.” The online spot, aimed at Mormon voters in Utah, featured a January 2000 photo of the then model posing nude on a bearskin rug on her future husband’s plane for British GQ. “Meet Melania Trump, your next first lady,” the super-PAC ad read. “Or, you could just support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.”
Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, at a Republican debate March 3 in Detroit. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Responding to Trump’s tweet, Cruz denied involvement with the ad and slammed him for threatening his wife. “Pic of your wife not from us,” he wrote, in what turned out to be just the beginning of an increasingly bitter back and forth between him and Trump over their wives. “Donald, if you try to attack Heidi, you’re more of a coward than I thought.”
According to the Cruz campaign memo, aides see the initial Trump tweet on Tuesday as evidence of the campaign’s attempt to elevate the sex scandal story. The memo also cites Trump’s “long time unusually favorable relationship with the National Enquirer,” citing his “very close” relationship with David Pecker, the chairman of American Media, which owns the tabloid.
The memo also mentions the Enquirer’s endorsement of Trump, writing that it “appears to be the first time the National Enquirer has ever endorsed a candidate for president.”
Speaking to reporters in Wisconsin, Cruz lamented “the darker turn” the campaign had taken and hinted for the first time that he might not honor his pledge to back the eventual Republican nominee if it ends up being Trump.
“I don’t make a habit out of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my family,” Cruz said.