Ted Cruz said Thursday that he did not think Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, his harshest criticism yet of a candidate he has assiduously avoided even brushing with judgment.

Asked by WABC Radio’s Rita Cosby whether he believed that “eventually, you could beat him, based on your principles,” Cruz said he could.

“I think that’s right. I think that, in time, I don’t believe Donald is going to be the nominee and I think, in time, the lion’s share of his supporters end up with us,” Cruz said in an interview taped Thursday that will air in full on Sunday.

Cruz, a generally cautious candidate and public speaker, has made no bones about courting the supporters of Trump, who has won over many fans of the conservative right. He has repeatedly needled his opponents for hitting Trump — wisdom he again shared in the interview Thursday — but Cruz has treated Trump as a serious, viable candidate.

And he has long maintained that Trump’s rise would benefit the Cruz campaign, saying that Trump has encouraged voters to use a certain set of criteria to evaluate candidates that is favorable to Cruz.

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