CLEVELAND — A day after accepting the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump pivoted back to the GOP primaries on Friday, choosing to re-litigate a pair of monthsold battles with rival Ted Cruz.
In what should have been a feel-good victory lap the morning after his thundering acceptance speech, Trump instead defended his decision to retweet an unflattering photo of Cruz's wife, Heidi, and returned to wondering about possible links between Cruz's father and President John F. Kennedy's assassin. He also declared that he would never accept the Texas senator's backing.
"He'll come and endorse. It's because he has no choice. But I don't want his endorsement," Trump said. "Ted, stay home. Relax. Enjoy yourself."
Cruz, in Georgia on Friday to campaign for a Republican congressional candidate, never mentioned Trump but received a standing ovation upon his entrance and again when he mentioned "a little-noticed talk that I gave in Cleveland."
That "talk" was perhaps the most dramatic moment of the GOP's four-day convention. Dormant since ending his campaign in early May, Cruz reignited the personal feud between the top two finishers in the Republican primaries when he spoke at the convention but would not urge his hundreds of delegates to vote for Trump in November. Boos echoed across the arena.
Trump made no mention of his former rival during his acceptance speech Thursday night, but he switched gears Friday morning. The invitation-only event, billed as a thank-you reception for supporters and staff at Trump's Cleveland hotel, at first looked like it would simply consist of Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, making perfunctory remarks saluting the convention and pledging to win in November.
Then Trump bore in on Cruz, calling his non-endorsement "dishonorable" before revisiting the hubbub over the celebrity businessman March's retweet of a post that juxtaposed an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz with a glamour shot of Trump's wife, Melania, a former model. At the time, Cruz criticized Trump for involving his wife and Trump's responded by accusing a super PAC affiliated with Cruz of sending a risque photo of Melania Trump to Utah voters.
"I didn't start anything with the wife," Trump said Friday. "Then when I saw somebody tweeted a picture of Melania and a picture of Heidi, who I think, by the way, is a very nice woman and a very beautiful woman."
"I think (she's) the best thing he's got going and his kids if you want to know the truth," he continued during a nearly 15-minute ramble about Cruz.
Trump turned to justifying how, on the eve of the Indiana primary, he touted a story in the National Enquirer tabloid that printed a photo that purported to show Cruz's father, Rafael, with Lee Harvey Oswald.
"All I did was point out the fact that on the cover of the National Enquirer there was a picture of him and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast," the GOP nominee said. "Did anybody ever deny that was the father? They're not saying, 'Oh that wasn't really my father.' It was a little hard to do. It looked like him."
Cruz, in May, denied that his father was in the photo.
The senator ignored questions Friday in Georgia about Trump's comments and about whether a personal apology from Trump might coax his endorsement. In a 25-minute speech, he called for Republicans to "come together and unite in the defense of liberty" to "defeat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election."
Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Newnan, Georgia, contributed to this report.
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