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Story highlights

"Donald, you're a sniveling coward and leave Heidi the hell alone," Cruz said

Trump inserted Heidi Cruz into the race when he tweeted Tuesday night that the Texas senator should "be careful" or he would "spill the beans on your wife"

(CNN) —  

An angry and emotional Ted Cruz on Thursday ripped into Donald Trump for his attacks on Cruz’s wife, Heidi, and repeatedly declined to say whether he would support Trump if he’s the Republican presidential nominee.

“Donald, you’re a sniveling coward and leave Heidi the hell alone,” Cruz told reporters after a factory tour in Dane, Wisconsin, pointing his finger at the cameras for emphasis.

Asked then multiple times if he could still support Trump in November as the Republican nominee given his most recent comments, a fired-up Cruz paused for a few beats before not directly answering whether he would.

“I’m going to beat Donald for the nomination,” Cruz responded, before saying three times: “Donald Trump will not be the nominee.”

Even as tensions escalated between the two, Cruz has insisted that he would back Trump if he won the nomination because he pledged he would do so at the outset of the Republican race. Cruz spent much of the campaign praising Trump, at one point calling him “fantastic.”

READ: Jeb Bush backs Ted Cruz for president

The already fractious relationship turned nasty this week when Trump inserted Heidi Cruz into the race with a tweet Tuesday night that the Texas senator should “be careful” or he would “spill the beans on your wife.” That was a response to a Facebook advertisement targeted to Mormons that shows Trump’s wife, Melania, posing nude – an ad was produced by an anti-Trump super PAC, Make America Awesome, which has no known connection to the Cruz campaign.

Trump then followed that up with a retweet on Wednesday night seemingly digging at Heidi Cruz’s physical appearance. And he showed no signs after Cruz’s rebuke that he would back down, telling his followers early Thursday evening that Cruz was responsible for the altercation.

“I didn’t start the fight with Lyin’Ted Cruz over the GQ cover pic of Melania, he did. He knew the PAC was putting it out - hence, Lyin’ Ted!” he tweeted.

Cruz on Thursday attributed Trump’s tweets to a broader discomfort with women, tying in his well-publicized feud with Fox News host Megyn Kelly. Heidi Cruz is a senior executive at Goldman Sachs.

“Donald does seem to have an issue with women. Donald doesn’t like strong women,” he said, at one point deeming the billionaire a “loud, New York bully.”

“Real men don’t try to bully women. That’s not an action of strength. That’s an action of weakness. It’s an action of fear. It’s an action of a small and petty man who is intimidated by strong women.”

CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.