MILWAUKEE — Donald Trump is doubling down in his ongoing battle with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over their wives, saying his opponent is the one who “started it.”
The real estate mogul and Republican presidential front-runner on Monday defended his role in the increasingly ugly and personal dispute, saying his wife, Melania, was attacked first.
Trump made his comments in a confrontational interview with conservative radio host Charlie Sykes.
Sykes’ talk show on 620 WTMJ/Milwaukee has long been a platform for Republican candidates and elected officials to promote their policies and positions. But Sykes has been a vocal critic of Trump, and is part of the NeverTrump movement among conservatives — something Trump said he did not know when asked during the interview.
The Sykes show was the first of at least two Trump did Monday with conservative talk radio hosts who have opposed his candidacy and he seemed surprised that the questioning turned adversarial.
The war over wives between Trump and Cruz has distracted the GOP candidates from focusing more of their attention and campaign remarks on issues facing the country, and on events such as the terror attacks in Brussels.
The dispute between the Republican front-runners heated up last week — as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was lamenting the “disheartening” state of politics and candidates who focused on fear and personal attacks over ideas and appeals to the best of the American people.
Trump tweeted a warning Tuesday that he would “spill the beans” on Cruz’s wife, Heidi, then on Wednesday retweeted another attack on her. That tweet featured an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz next to Melania Trump, and said that a “picture is worth a thousand words.”
Trump repeatedly insisted the attacks came only because a racy photograph of his wife was featured in an attack ad targeting him.
“Is this your standard, that if a supporter of another candidate — not the candidate himself — does something despicable, that it’s OK for you personally, a candidate for president of the United States, to behave in that same way?” Sykes said sternly. “I mean, I expect that from a 12-year-old bully on the playground, not someone who wants the office held by Abraham Lincoln.”
Despite repeated urging, Trump refused to apologize to Heidi Cruz. He said that Ted Cruz should apologize to him first.
“Ted Cruz knew totally about it,” Trump said. “He says he didn’t know about it. He totally knew about it.”
Late last week, Cruz called Trump “a rat” during a campaign stop in Oshkosh.
And the Texas senator blamed Trump and “henchmen” for a National Enquirer story alleging Cruz had multiple extramarital affairs, a report he said was “garbage.”
Cruz had no direct evidence either for his assertions that Trump or longtime political operative Roger Stone was responsible for the report.
Trump also did a second talk radio interview Monday with a conservative Wisconsin radio host who opposes his candidacy, Jerry Bader. Bader pressed Trump over his attacks on Megyn Kelly of Fox News and his past support of Hillary Clinton, saying he was concerned about Trump’s behavior and what he called his “vague policy positions.”
Once again, Trump sounded surprised that the interview was adversarial.
“I’m supporting Senator Cruz (and) I’ve been very critical of your campaign,” Bader told him.
Trump said moments later, “I’m a little surprised that talk show hosts would be supporting somebody. You’d think there’d be a certain impartiality.”
After attacking Cruz on the issue of trade, Trump told Bader, “I am surprised someone would be supporting him who’s a conservative.”
Later he told Bader, “You can support him if you want, but you’re making a mistake.”
When Bader questioned his past statements praising Clinton, Trump said that “when you see how she finished up (as secretary of state) … when you look at it now, obviously it was terrible.”
Trump complained that the Benghazi controversy “never stuck (to Clinton) like it should have stuck.”
The GOP front-runner also said: “When I was in business, I’d say people are good. Nobody cared anyway … when I’m a businessman, I’m not in the world to criticize people that maybe I have to deal with at some point.”
After the interview concluded, Bader told his listeners, “You’ve got to be nice to people and say things you don’t mean? Wow!”