Word had gotten out that the Texas senator, who had previously refused to criticize the billionaire, had raised questions about Trump's "judgment" at a fundraiser. When audio surfaced, Trump went on the offensive, first suggesting Cruz was beholden to the oil industry, then saying Cruz was not qualified to be president due to his temperament.
"You look at the way he’s dealt with the Senate where he goes in there, frankly, you know, like a little bit of a maniac," Trump said in a TV interview that aired Sunday.
By the end of the fifth GOP debate Tuesday night, it was as if nothing had happened. Given the opportunity to elaborate on his "maniac" diss, Trump not only took a pass, but also appeared to walk back his previous statement questioning Cruz's temperament.
"Let me just say that I have gotten to know him over the last three or four days. He has a wonderful temperament," Trump said, reaching over and patting Cruz on the back. "He's just fine. Don't worry about it."
After the debate, Trump suggested he had spared Cruz because the senator had repented enough for his comments. Cruz has called the New York Times story about the remarks "misleading," insisting that he was not attacking Trump but simply discussing how every candidate should be assessed on their judgment.
Cruz made that point again on the debate stage, telling the moderators that "what I said in private is exactly what I'll say here, which is that the judgment that every voter is making of every one of us up here is who has the experience, who has the vision, who has the judgment to be commander in chief."
"I was very happy to see he backed off his statement that he made" at the fundraiser, Trump told reporters Tuesday night. "I have a lot of respect for him. He's a good man."
In an interview after the debate, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said nothing had changed between Trump calling Cruz a "maniac" and the debate, adding that the two candidates have had a "great relationship for a long time."
Is their truce still intact, though?
"I don't know about an alliance," Lewandowski said. "Everyone on that stage wants to be the president of the United States. I think what you have tonight is a couple of individuals who fundamentally agree that Washington is broken, and they have their own vision to change that, and that's what came across on the stage tonight."
The two did not agree on everything. Cruz went a little further than usual in explaining his opposition to Trump's proposal to ban Muslim immigration to the United States, saying he has introduced legislation that is "more narrowly focused."
"It's not a war on a faith," Cruz said of the fight against terrorism. "It's a war on a political and theocratic ideology that seeks to murder us."
Trump did not seem to mind the dig at his controversial proposal. Later in the debate, he nonetheless had a warning for Cruz after declining to expand his "maniac" criticism: "You better not attack."