So now we're here.
Today, "Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) blamed 'Donald Trump and his henchmen' for planting a National Enquirer story that accused him of extramarital affairs. Vehemently denying the story as 'garbage' and 'complete and utter lies,' the Republican presidential hopeful took his longest step yet toward refusing to back Trump if he wins the party’s nomination," reports Dave Weigel.
"I don’t make a habit out of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my family," said Cruz. "And Donald Trump is not going to be the Republican nominee."
....Cruz himself brought up the Enquirer's story that accused the senator of having had five mistresses -– a subject some of the reporters covering him were loath to even raise. The story had bubbled up on social media, with the hashtag #TedCruzSexScandal appearing in tweets that asked reporters to follow the story. The Washington Post has not been able to confirm any of the allegations made by the Enquirer (which have been denied by everyone mentioned in connection to this story -- including, ironically enough, a senior aide to Donald Trump.)
Cruz blamed the story on Roger Stone, a longtime political adviser to Trump. "It is a story that quoted one source on the record: Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s chief political adviser," said Cruz. "It is attacking my family. And what is striking is Donald’s henchman, Roger Stone, had for months been foreshadowing that this attack was coming. It’s not surprising that Donald’s tweet occurs the day before the attack comes out. And I would note that Mr. Stone is a man who has 50 years of dirty tricks behind him. He’s a man for whom a term was coined for copulating with a rodent. Well, let me be clear: Donald Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him."
The copulation reference was to a term coined to describe Stone and other political allies of Richard Nixon who spread rumors and foiled the campaign events of rivals." [If you don't know what it is already, you'll have to google it up; it is not a word we are going to include here, because The Washington Post is a family newspaper.]
What came next: this.
Cruz also released his statement online, while speculation -- none of it substantiated, all of it denied by everyone named -- flooded the Web.
Trump quickly fired back, saying he'd had "absolutely nothing" to do with the Enquirer story -- and that he just hoped they weren't right about "Lyin' Ted Cruz." (Here's the statement in full, annotated.)
Statement from Donald Trump on Cruz allegations: pic.twitter.com/eRifGQO4Jr— Jose A. DelReal (@jdelreal) March 25, 2016
"This week -- and today in particular -- highlight what this campaign has become," wrote Chris Cillizza. "An absurd race to the bottom in which the debate is over who is losing less badly and where winners are impossible to find. We -- and the GOP field -- know exactly how we got here. I'm just not sure anyone knows how we can escape it."
There's more: We also got an update on another front in the Trump-Cruz feud.
Earlier this week, Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson echoed her boss, saying they might "spill the beans" on Heidi Cruz -- a statement that many, including the mogul's supporters, took to be a reference to her struggle with depression several years ago. Today, Trump's campaign manager tweeted a link to a story in which the campaign said they had been referring to Heidi Cruz's work with the Bush administration and Goldman Sachs, and her involvement with the Council on Foreign Relations, none of which has ever been secret in any way.
Trump aide fulfills threat to 'spill the beans' on Heidi Cruz | TheHill https://t.co/ttXDI7LyBI— Corey Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) March 25, 2016
Oddly enough, the race did wind up on that sensitive terrain Friday anyway, courtesy of the Cruz campaign.
MISSING #SleazyDonald: Why no events in 4 days; none planned for 8. Ever had psychological eval? What is hiding in medical records! Release!— Jeff Roe (@jeffroe) March 25, 2016
Where is Donald Trump? He's been in the news this week -- but not out on the trail: "The downtime comes after weeks of negative press centered on volatile, sometimes-violent clashes between protesters and his supporters at campaign rallies around the country," reports Jose A. DelReal. “'This was always planned and we look forward to being in Wisconsin,' spokesperson Hope Hicks said when asked if the schedule was light because of the protests."
Trump's next public event is currently scheduled for Tuesday in that hotly-contested state.
LONG GAME UPDATE:
No matter who came out on top in this week's public Trump-Cruz dustup -- and it's likely no one comes out of this well -- in the behind-the-scenes battle, Cruz appeared to gain an edge.
There's an advantage to being the insider's outsider (or the outsider's insider): the Texas senator may rail against the system, but there have been early signs his team is poised to master post-vote/pre-convention delegate strategy.
The examples have been trickling in, like the Georgia county Trump carried by 12 points where a Cruz organizer estimates that roughly 90 percent of the actual delegates selected are on track to be supporters of the senator.
In Louisiana, where Trump beat Cruz by 3.6 percent, Cruz may wind up with as many as 10 more delegates from the state than Trump does. And that's not all, reports Reid Epstein: "Mr. Cruz’s supporters also seized five of Louisiana’s six slots on the three powerful committees that will write the rules and platform at the Republican National Convention and mediate disputes over delegates’ eligibility this summer in Cleveland." And there are similar dynamics playing out in a string of states right now.
The Trump team pushed back Friday, pointing to a report which said the businessman's delegates were staying loyal.
--Ralph Nader thinks Bernie Sanders was right to run as a Democrat.
--David Dewhurst, the former Texas lieutenant governor Ted Cruz beat in the 2012 GOP Senate primary there, backed him (late in the afternoon, on Good Friday.)
--Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski retweeted a link to a story on a fake news site which said a protester at a Trump rally claimed to have been paid to disrupt the event. (If you click through and check out additional coverage on that site: No, Ted Cruz is not the zodiac killer)
--Ben Carson says he deserves credit for Trump's more "presidential" approach lately.
On a related note: here are the most half-hearted endorsements of the year.
REMINDER: SATURDAY IS ELECTION DAY OUT WEST
Democrats hold caucuses Saturday in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington state, all the sort of contests where Sanders tends to do well.
Here's where things stand heading into Saturday's contests:
YOUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP: #BirdieSanders