Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — It started Tuesday afternoon, when Ted Cruz was asked about the latest slight over his Canadian birth: Donald Trump's decision to play "Born in the USA" at his recent rallies.
"I think he may shift in his new rallies to playing ‘New York, New York’ because Donald comes from New York and he embodies New York values," the U.S. senator from Texas replied, abruptly debuting a new offensive against the Republican presidential opponent he had for months refused to criticize.
In the 72 hours since that interview on Boston radio, Cruz's invocation of "New York values" has sparked an all-out feeding frenzy. On Friday afternoon, Cruz responded to the blowback by issuing his own version of an apology.
“Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo have all demanded an apology, and I’m happy to apologize — I apologize to the millions of New Yorkers who’ve been let down by liberal politicians in that state," Cruz told reporters after a town hall in Columbia.
The fracas had reached a new volume Thursday night in Charleston, S.C., where moderators at the sixth GOP debate prodded Cruz into explaining what exactly he meant by "New York values."
"I think most people know exactly what New York values are," Cruz responded. "There are many, many wonderful, wonderful working men and women in the state of New York, but everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, are pro-abortion, are pro-gay marriage, focused around money and the media."
To prove his point, Cruz cited a seven-year-old TV interview in which Trump repeatedly explains that some of his beliefs are more liberal than the rest of the country because he hails from the solidly Democratic Empire State.
Trump immediately took umbrage with Cruz's unflattering review of his home state, launching into an extensive recollection of one the darkest chapters in New York history: the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Cruz's use of "New York values," Trump would later tell reporters, amounted to an attack on the millions of people who live there, not to mention those affected by the attacks.
By Friday morning, it was clear Trump was not the only New Yorker objecting to the line of attack: The front page of the New York Daily News was a caricature of Lady Liberty raising a middle finger, with the headline "DROP DEAD, TED." Meanwhile, a who's who of Empire State Democrats had lined up to bash Cruz over the jab, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who called it "anti-American."
"In 30 seconds, he offended gays, he offended women, he offended 18 million people and he offended one of the largest congressional delegations in this country," Cuomo said in an interview on CNN.
"If he had any class, he would apologize to the people of New York, not that I believe they need it or they want it," Cuomo added in another media appearance Friday morning.
Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who once represented New York in the U.S. Senate, also got in on the action. In a tweet, the former secretary of state said, "Just this once, Trump's right: New Yorkers value hard work, diversity, tolerance, resilience and building better lives for our families."
In response to the criticism from Democrats, Cruz on Friday offered an extended criticism of policies in New York, ranging from its ban on hydraulic fracturing to its tax climate. He had particularly sharp words for de Blasio, saying sorry to the black children the mayor "tried to throw out of their charter schools that are a lifeline for the American Dream." He also took de Blasio to task for his frosty relations with the New York Police Department, saying the mayor "over and over again stands with the looters and criminals rather than the brave men and women of the blue."
At a rally Friday night in Tigerville, Cruz added the facetious "apology" to his stump speech after mocking reporters for being "very, very confused" about the difference between values in New York and those elsewhere in the country. "Now I hope that was the apology they were looking for," he concluded.
As the Democrats piled on Friday morning, one of Cruz’s most prominent surrogates conceded that the line of attack had not exactly worked in the senator's favor. Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who was recently named a national co-chair of the Cruz campaign, said Trump "really flipped" the remark on Cruz, effectively turning it into an emotional appeal.
"I didn't think [Cruz] went too far until I saw Donald Trump's reaction, and then I thought it would've been better on the part of Ted Cruz to not have had that exchange," King said in an interview on CNN. "I thought it was one of the times when you saw Donald Trump actually show you more of his heart than we've seen on the campaign trail."
But the night before, Cruz aides dismissed reporters' suggestions that Trump had knocked their boss off balance by invoking 9/11.
"I get the New York media wants to defend New York," Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler said, "but the fact of the matter is the values of New York are different essentially from most of the rest of the country."
"I think viewers knew exactly what Ted Cruz is talking about," Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier added, rattling off New York's relatively liberal approach to gun rights, abortion and marriage. "People in Iowa and South Carolina understand."
Cruz's campaign showed no signs of backing down the morning after the debate. Sharing Trump's 1999 interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," chief strategist Jason Johnson suggested on Twitter that "Trump should seek an injunction 4 trademark infringement on Cruz use of phrase #NewYorkValues[.] Trump owns it."
Also among Cruz's defenders Friday morning was former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Cruz's former foe in the 2016 race for the White House. Acknowledging some New Yorkers were offended by Cruz's use of "New York values," Perry said in an interview on Fox Business Network that the senator was just "speaking tongue-in-cheek."
"We were all New Yorkers on that day," Perry said of 9/11, "but that doesn't mean we still can't make a little fun of each other from time to time."
As Cruz wrapped up a town hall Friday afternoon on the University of South Carolina campus, Lexington teacher Rob Watts said the "New York values" hit "sounds like one of those lines that has been tested" but nonetheless holds true. Watts, an undecided voter, brushed off the idea it could backfire, offering two reasons: "Number one, New York is not an early primary, and number two, no Republican candidate is going to win New York in a general election."