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Story highlights

Republican presidential candidate criticized The Washington Post for depicting his young daughters in a cartoon

"Classy. @washingtonpost makes fun of my girls. Stick w/ attacking me--Caroline & Catherine are out of your league," Cruz tweeted Tuesday.

(CNN) —  

Ted Cruz obtained new ammunition Tuesday to shoot at his favorite bogeyman, the mainstream media, after The Washington Post depicted his two young daughters as monkey-like characters doing the bidding of their father.

By early Tuesday evening, backlash to the cartoon had swelled to the point where the Post took down the image and replaced it with an editor’s note.

Ann Telnaes, a Post cartoonist, drew an animation of the Republican presidential contender in a Santa outfit, with two hatted creatures, after the family gamely appeared in a parody television advertisement that aired during “Saturday Night Live” this weekend.

In the 90-second spot, “Cruz Christmas Classics,” which had nearly 1.5 million views as of Tuesday afternoon, the daughters and Cruz’s wife, Heidi, read from a fictional holiday-themed children’s book while sitting together on the couch.

Cruz quickly blasted the Post’s cartoon.

“Classy. @washingtonpost makes fun of my girls. Stick w/ attacking me–Caroline & Catherine are out of your league,” Cruz tweeted Tuesday.

Even Marco Rubio, who has been tangling loudly with Cruz for several weeks, came to his defense.

“Wash Post cartoon featuring @tedcruz’s children is disgusting. The Post saying the kids are ‘fair game’ is even worse,” he tweeted.

Cruz later thanked him for the tweet.

“Thank you, @marcorubio Appreciate the kind support. We’re both Dads of young kids, and it’s hard enough on them,” Cruz tweeted.

Donald Trump, who has largely had kind words for Cruz this cycle, also weighed in on the cartoon, calling it “nasty” in a tweet.

“The @washingtonpost, which is the lobbyist (power) for not imposing taxes on #Amazon, today did a nasty cartoon attacking @tedcruz kids. Bad,” Trump tweeted.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also sided with Cruz, calling the cartoon a “mistake” and saying Wednesday morning that families should be “off limits.”

“I’m also a father that was in public life and I totally agree,” Bush said on “Fox & Friends.” “This is off limits and Ted Cruz was absolutely right to be outraged, and I’m glad The Washington Post took the cartoon off.”

Telnaes, however, defended her cartoon on Twitter.

“Ted Cruz has put his children in a political ad – don’t start screaming when editorial cartoonists draw them as well,” she wrote.

She added that Cruz had now made his kids acceptable targets for satire.

“When a politician uses his children as political props, as Ted Cruz recently did in his Christmas parody video in which his eldest daughter read (with her father’s dramatic flourish) a passage of an edited Christmas classic, then I figure they are fair game,” she wrote.

Cruz frequently cites his two grade-school daughters in his stump speech, which also frequently ridicules coverage of Cruz in prominent national publications like the Post and The New York Times. Cruz frequently jokes that reporters and editors will “check themselves into therapy” when he is elected because they will be so distraught.

In place of the cartoon Fred Hiatt, the Post’s editorial page editor, wrote in a post why it was taken down.

“It’s generally been the policy of our editorial section to leave children out of it. I failed to look at this cartoon before it was published. I understand why Ann thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree.”

The brouhaha could prove to be a fundraising magnet for Cruz, who has a strong base of low-dollar donors. Mere hours after the cartoon vanished from the website, Cruz emailed his supporter list asking for an “emergency donation” as he hoped to raise $1 million in the next 24 hours.

By Wednesday afternoon, Cruz had a cartoon suggestion of his own, tweeting a depiction of the Post and the New York Times as Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s “lapdogs.”

Media frequently clash with politicians who try to shield their children from press coverage. Jenna and Barbara Bush, the daughters of President George W. Bush, attracted media coverage early in their father’s presidency when they were caught with liquor. And President Barack Obama has tried to keep his daughters, aged 17 and 14, off limits.

CNN’s Tal Kopan contributed to this report.