Conspiracy theories and baseless charges are nothing new for Donald Trump.
His latest claim — made hours before he won the Republican presidential primary in Indiana and Ted Cruz dropped out of the race — is that Ted Cruz’s father had something to do with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Trump cited unsubstantiated allegations in a National Enquirer article last month tying the Texas senator’s father, Rafael Cruz, to Lee Harvey Oswald.
The supermarket tabloid quoted “top D.C. insiders” as saying Rafael Cruz was photographed with Oswald in New Orleans three months before the 1963 assassination.
“What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death — before the shooting?” Trump said in an interview on “Fox & Friends.” “It’s horrible.”
“That was reported, and nobody talks about it,” he said.
His comments came after Fox News aired a video clip of Rafael Cruz, a Cuban-born pastor, saying Indiana voters should cast their ballots “according to the word of God” and that not voting for his son would ensure the “destruction of America.”
The National Enquirer has endorsed Trump. David Pecker, chairman and chief executive of its parent company, American Media, is a friend of the candidate.
Campaigning in Indiana, Cruz told reporters that Trump was a “pathological liar” spreading falsehoods printed in a tabloid that lets the New York developer use it to smear adversaries.
“I guess I should go ahead and admit — yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis, and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard,” Cruz said.
“Donald was dismayed that the folks in the media weren’t repeating this latest idiocy, so he figured he’d have to do it himself,” he added.
In March, the National Enquirer ran a story with uncorroborated accusations that Cruz had extramarital affairs. Trump said at the time that while the tabloid was “right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin’ Ted Cruz.”
The adultery story quoted longtime Trump political advisor Roger Stone, who wrote on Twitter Tuesday that the Oswald story was “100% correct.”
Mark Salter, a longtime political advisor to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), cited the incident in announcing he would cross party lines to back Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.
Republicans, Salter wrote on Twitter, are “going to nominate for President a guy who reads the National Enquirer and thinks it’s on the level. I’m with her.”
Radio host Rush Limbaugh condemned the accusation against Cruz’s father and defended the mainstream media for ignoring the National Enquirer report. “It’s absurd,” he told listeners.
Trump has routinely launched attacks that would normally be deemed out of bounds even in the most contentious campaigns. He has displayed little concern about spreading falsehoods.
When Trump was mulling a presidential run in 2011, he fueled the conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in Kenya and thus ineligible to serve as president. Trump dispatched private eyes to investigate the matter in Hawaii, where Obama’s birth certificate shows he was born.
Trump has also implied the Christian president is secretly a Muslim. He tweeted in February: “I wonder if President Obama would have attended the funeral of Justice [Antonin] Scalia if it were held in a Mosque?”
Trump questioned authorities’ conclusion that the Supreme Court justice died in his sleep of natural causes.
He also has suggested vaccines cause autism, a theory debunked by scientists. And he has spread a story discredited by historians about U.S. Army Gen. John Joseph Pershing using bullets dipped in pig blood to execute 49 Muslim terrorists around the time of the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902.
In March, after a man tried to rush the stage at a Trump rally in Ohio, Trump accused him of having ties to the Islamic State terrorist group. But Trump had no evidence apart from a doctored video of the man in a student protest that had nothing to do with the Middle East.
The latest dust-up underscored Trump’s unpredictability in a potential general election contest against Clinton.
Lynn Vavreck, a UCLA political science professor, said Trump’s willingness to use anything he can find to defeat his rivals “would keep [her] up at night” if she were a Clinton advisor.
“I think it makes it harder to anticipate what is going to come your way in the general election campaign,” she said.