US Election 2016: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz trade threats and insults about wives as presidential race reaches nadir

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush gives the Texas senator a boost by endorsing his campaign and condemning the ‘divisiveness and vulgarity’ Mr Trump has brought to US politics

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The Independent US

The Republican presidential race has reached a new low, with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz trading Twitter threats and insults about their wives as they waited for results from the latest contests to decide the party’s nominee. 

Before the Utah caucuses – one of a number of states to hold votes on so-called “Western Tuesday” – an anti-Trump super PAC [funding body] released a Facebook advertisement featuring Mr Trump’s wife, Melania posing naked for a 2000 GQ magazine cover. The caption on the image said: “Meet Melania Trump, your next first lady. Or you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.”

Responding to the attack Mr Trump threatened Mr Cruz’s wife Heidi in a tweet. “Be careful, lyin’ Ted,” he warned, “or I will spill the beans on your wife!” Mr Cruz replied by pointing out that the ad had not come from his campaign, tweeting that Mr Trump was “classless” and “a coward.”

It was unclear exactly what “beans” Mr Trump could “spill” regarding Ms Cruz, a senior investment manager at Goldman Sachs. Ms Cruz said she was unconcerned by the threat, telling reporters in Wisconsin: “Most of the things that Donald Trump says have no basis in reality.”

In New York, Mr Cruz said Mr Trump’s tweet about his wife was “gutter politics”. He added that Mr Trump tries to “attack and bully people” but should know that spouses and children are off-limits. Continuing on that theme when speaking to CNN, Mr Cruz said: “If Donald wants to get in a character fight he’s better off sticking with me, because Heidi is way out of his league.”

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Heidi Cruz said most of what Trump says has no basis in reality (Getty)

As for the political results from Tuesday, Mr Trump racked up 58 more delegates from Arizona’s contest, but Mr Cruz maintained pressure on the property mogul, romping to victory in Utah with 69 per cent of the vote. That was way beyond the 50 per cent threshold required to claim all of the state’s 40 delegates.

Senator Cruz of Texas also received a boost from an unlikely quarter: the former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who endorsed Mr Cruz a month after suspending his own White House bid. “For the sake of our party and country, we must overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena or we will certainly lose our chance to defeat the Democratic nominee this fall,” Mr Bush wrote in a Facebook post.

Mr Bush’s endorsement is the latest sign that top Republicans are uniting behind the ultra-conservative Mr Cruz, once considered a bitter antagonist to his party’s establishment, but now their last, best hope to defeat the billionaire front-runner. “What we’re seeing all across the country is the momentum is with us,” Mr Cruz told CNN. “You want to talk about a broad coalition, ideologically diverse – that covers the entire spectrum of the Republican Party.”

Mr Trump nonetheless increased his delegate lead on Tuesday, and now has 738 towards the 1,237 majority needed to claim the Republican presidential nomination before the party’s convention in July. So far Mr Cruz has just 463 delegates.

Trump on terror

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton maintained her lead over Bernie Sanders with a comfortable win in Arizona, the biggest prize of the night. But like Mr Trump, she had less luck elsewhere on the electoral map. Mr Sanders trounced the former Secretary of State in Utah and Idaho, picking up a total of 57 delegates to Ms Clinton’s 51 from the three contests. Yet he still trails the Democratic frontrunner by more than 300.

In spite of the adverse arithmetic, the Vermont Senator signalled his intention to fight to the end by campaigning this week in California, which votes on the very last day of the primary season in June.

Tuesday’s results were overshadowed by events in Brussels, not least because three Mormon missionaries from Utah were injured in the terrorist attacks on the Belgian capital. Following the bombings, Mr Cruz said the US ought to “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighbourhoods before they become radicalised”. Mr Trump advocated the torture of terrorism suspects, telling ABC News he would “try to expand the laws to go beyond waterboarding”.

Speaking in Seattle, where she was campaigning ahead of Saturday’s Washington state caucus, Ms Clinton criticised the responses of her Republican rivals. “The last thing we need are leaders who incite more fear,” she said. 

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