OSHKOSH, Wis. — Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, 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.
‘‘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.’’
On Thursday, Cruz did not start talking about Trump until reporters asked him about the Republican front-runner’s tweets that mocked the appearance of his wife, Heidi Cruz, and threatened to ‘‘spill the beans’’ about her.
On Friday, after a crowded rally at a parking-cone factory here, and after attacking Trump from the stage for his tweets, Cruz himself brought up the Enquirer’s story that accused the senator of having had five mistresses, a subject some reporters covering him were loath to raise.
‘‘It became clear as the campaign went on that Donald was a whole lot of sizzle without any substance,’’ said Cruz. ‘‘When he’s scared, when he’s losing, his first and natural resort is to go to sleaze and to go to slime.’’
That was how Cruz introduced the subject of the Enquirer story, which alleged the candidate had carried out affairs with five women — women whom bloggers and political activists were starting to ‘‘identify’’ as prominent political pundits.
The story bubbled up on social media, with the hashtag #TedCruzSexScandal appearing in tweets that asked reporters to follow the story.
The Post has not been able to confirm any of the allegations made by the Enquirer.
On CNN Friday, a Trump supporter — Boston Herald columnist and radio host Adriana Cohen — accused a former Cruz staffer, Amanda Carpenter, of being one of the five women cited in the Enquirer story. The Enquirer published photos of five women with their faces blurred, but did not give their names.
Carpenter vigorously denied the allegation: ‘‘What’s out there is tabloid trash. If someone wants to comment on it they can talk to my lawyer. It is categorically false. You should be ashamed for spreading this kind of smut,’’ she said.
‘‘I will not be intimidated,’’ she said. “I will continue to make my thoughts known about Donald Trump and I’m not backing down.’’
Katrina Pierson, a Trump spokeswoman who once worked for Cruz, tweeted on Friday that the story is false, saying she was speaking for herself not the campaign.
Trump, in a statement, said he had no idea whether or not the Enquirer story is true, but denied having anything to do with it.
‘‘I did not know about it, and have not, as yet, read it. I have nothing to do with the National Enquirer and unlike lyin’ Ted Cruz I do not surround myself with political hacks and henchmen and then pretend total innocence,’’ Trump said.
‘‘Ted Cruz’s problem with the National Enquirer is his and his alone, and while they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about lyin’ Ted Cruz. I look forward to spending the week in Wisconsin, winning the Republican nomination and ultimately the presidency in order to make America great again.’’
This week, Trump stepped up his Twitter war of words against Cruz, prompted in part by a super PAC ad aimed at stopping Trump from getting the nomination. The ad showed an old nude photo of Trump’s wife, Melania, a former model.
Cruz, who has no affiliation with the super PAC, denounced the ad. But Trump responded by threatening to make revelations about Cruz’s wife, who suffered a bout of depression years ago.
The controversy has renewed concern among Republican leaders that women will be driven away from the party in the general election.
Cruz blamed the infidelity 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,’’ he said. “And I would note that Mr. Stone is a man who has 50 years of dirty tricks behind him.’’
Stone, who had promised a bombshell on Cruz, said, ‘‘This is why they call him lyin’ Ted.’’
‘‘Dirty tricks? Let’s ask Ben Carson,’’ Stone told the Post, referring to a rumor made about the other GOP rival dropping out of the race. ‘‘Most of what I know about this matter I learned from reporters at your newspaper.’’
Last August, Trump said he cut ties with Stone, saying he wanted to surround himself with ‘‘only the best people.’’
‘‘I terminated Roger Stone last night because he no longer serves a useful function for my campaign,’’ Trump said. ‘‘I really don’t want publicity seekers who want to be on magazines or who are out for themselves.’’
Cruz tried to wrestle the subject back to Trump’s refusal to debate him, accusing him of ‘‘hiding in Trump Tower’’ instead of campaigning in Wisconsin. On March 29, Trump will make his first public appearance of any kind since his March 21 speech to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee.
‘‘He sits in Trump Tower and sends tweets late at night,’’ said Cruz. ‘‘We need a president who is fighting for the people of America and not battling his personal demons on Twitter.’’