DANE, Wis. (CBSNewYork) — Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz was fuming Thursday when he told rival Donald Trump to lay off his wife.

On Wednesday night, Trump retweeted a meme graphic from a supporter, showing Heidi Cruz and Melania Trump with the words: “No need to spill the beans. The images are worth a thousand words.”

Cruz did not mince words in his response as he spoke while campaigning in Dane, Wisconsin Thursday.

“It’s not easy to tick me off. I don’t get mad often. But you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that’ll do it every time,” Cruz said. “Donald, you’re a sniveling coward. Leave Heidi the hell alone.”

As CBS2’s Kristine Johnson reported, Cruz raised his hand and his voice in a display of anger.

“It’s an action of a small and petty man who’s intimidated by strong women,” he said.

The mention of “spilling the beans” referred back to a threat that Trump fired off on Wednesday, after anti-Trump super PAC ran an ad using a naked photo of the Melania Trump.

“Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!” Trump said.

Trump tweeted, then deleted, then tweeted again his comment toward the Texas senator.

On Tuesday, Cruz shot back on Twitter, “Pic of your wife not from us. Donald, if you try to attack Heidi, you’re more of a coward than I thought. #classless”

The Texas senator’s wife hit back at Trump on the campaign trail in Wisconsin on Wednesday.

“You probably know by now, what Donald Trump says has no basis in reality, so we’re focusing on our campaign,” Heidi Cruz said.

She continued, “I have one job on this campaign, and it is to be helping Ted win this race. And it is, I think, the easiest job in the world, and that is to speak the truth: what I know about my husband, our family, myself.”

Heidi Cruz also denied the photo of Melania Trump came from the Cruz campaign.

The tweet storm stems from a Facebook ad launched by Make America Awesome, an anti-Trump super PAC founded by Republican strategist Liz Mair. The ad uses a photo where Melania Trump posed nude for British GQ magazine in 2000.
(credit: Make America Awesome) (credit: Make America Awesome)

“Meet Melania Trump, your next first lady. Or, you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday,” the ad said.

Vox reports the ad targeted Mormons ahead of Utah’s Republican presidential primary on Tuesday. Cruz won the primary in the state.