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Ted Cruz references 'Flashdance' in retort to Donald Trump

The former allies' feud has escalated in the wake of polls which show Cruz slowly gaining ground on Trump nationally and surpassing him in Iowa.

Sen. Ted Cruz had a tongue-in-cheek retort for his Republican presidential rival Donald Trump's latest attack.

After Trump referred to Cruz as "a bit of maniac" during an appearance on "FOX News Sunday," the Texas senator responded on Twitter with a link to the hit 1983 song "Maniac" from the soundtrack of the film "Flashdance".

The back-and-forth between the candidates has escalated in the wake of new polls which show Cruz slowly gaining ground on Trump nationally and surpassing him in the crucial first primary state of Iowa. Previously, Cruz pledged not to be critical of Trump or any of his other Republican competitors, but remarks he made at a recent private fundraiser, first reported by The New York Times, suggest a reversal from the senator.

RELATED: Ted Cruz surges into lead in Iowa: polls

“Who am I comfortable having their finger on the button?” Cruz asked rhetorically, while referring to Trump and Dr. Ben Carson. “Now that’s a question of strength, but it’s also a question of judgment. And I think that is a question that is a challenging question for both of them.”

Cruz was quick to try to diffuse the tension with Trump. "The Establishment's only hope: Trump & me in a cage match. Sorry to disappoint -- @realDonaldTrump is terrific. #DealWithIt," he tweeted on Dec. 11.

Since Trump launched his controversial campaign for the presidency, Cruz has been one of the only candidates to refrain from condemning the real estate mogul's rhetoric. The two even appeared together at a Capitol Hill rally in opposition to President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran. The first fissure in their relationship may have occurred in the aftermath of Trump's proposal that no Muslims should be allowed to emigrate to the U.S. temporarily following the presumed ISIS-influenced shooting massacre in San Bernadino, California. While Cruz stopped short of slamming Trump, he did say he "disagrees" with the plan. 

"It is amazing how eager the media is ... I mean the number one question I get day-in, day-out is please attack Donald Trump, please attack Donald Trump. And I'll point out my approach to Trump has been my same approach to ever Republican candidate which is that I am not interested in personal insults and mudslinging," Cruz said during a Dec. 10 appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

For his part, Trump was unconvinced. "Looks like @tedcruz is getting ready to attack. I am leading by so much he must. I hope so, he will fall like all others. Will be easy!" he tweeted on Dec. 11. He added: "@tedcruz should not make statements behind closed doors to his bosses, he should bring them out into the open - more fun that way!"

At a rally the following day, Trump knocked Cruz's position on ethanol and said that while he "likes" the senator, "not a lot evangelicals come out Cuba in all fairness."

Cruz has sparred with his fellow Sen. Marco Rubio, but has largely floated beneath the radar as some his competitors have faltered. He has also shown a penchant for dismissing insults. When film and music icon Cher tweeted that his policies "terrified" her and compared him to "Satan incarnate," Cruz tweeted holiday greetings back at her.