Here’s what happened:
As caucus-goers gathered to vote on Monday, CNN reported that Carson would head to Florida after the Iowa vote. Chris Moody of CNN tweeted:
Carson won't go to NH/SC, but instead will head home to Florida for some R&R. He'll be in DC Thursday for the National Prayer Breakfast.— Chris Moody (@moody) February 2, 2016
The Cruz campaign passed this along to caucus-goers as an indication that Carson was dropping out of the race. For instance, Cruz booster Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) retweeted Moody, stating:
Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope. https://t.co/lW5Js50EMA— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) February 2, 2016
King somehow neglected to pass along Moody’s tweet that immediately followed the one above, which said:
Ben Carson's campaign tells me he plans to stay in the race beyond Iowa no matter what the results are tonight.— Chris Moody (@moody) February 2, 2016
In fact, the Cruz campaign more generally failed to make the distinction between “going home before heading out to the primary” versus “going home and quitting the nomination process altogether,” with the result that many Carson supporters mistakenly thought their preferred candidate was dropping out of the race.
And the Cruz campaign was following up on that “information,” prodding Carson’s supporters to vote for Cruz instead.
This is political malpractice, plain and simple. You cannot, just hours before a vote, announce at a polling place that a candidate is dropping out of the race. That kind of news is political dynamite which is almost guaranteed to affect the vote. You can’t repeat it unless you verify it.
And verifying it means pointing to a campaign press release or a news story that uses the phrase “suspending his campaign.” That’s the term Mike Huckabee used yesterday after pulling in less than 2 percent. That’s the term Martin O’Malley used after getting less than 1 percent in the Iowa Democratic Caucus. They didn’t say they were “going home” or “heading back to Arkansas / Maryland”: they said “suspending the campaign” because that’s the technical jargon you use to make it unambiguously clear what’s happening.
For Cruz’s campaign to declare Carson was exiting the race without this verification – and, again, to conveniently ignore further reports stating that Carson was staying in the race from the same source they cited saying he was leaving – is completely unacceptable. You shouldn’t spread that news without confirmation at any time or place: certainly not on the day of the election, at the place where the election is being held.
At best, this is the handiwork of inexperienced, inept campaign workers; at worst, experienced, dishonest ones.
Rick Tyler, spokesman for the Cruz campaign, insists that the organization was merely simply repeating a “news item,” passing along “newsworthy” information to Cruz supporters. Really? Just checking, does anyone know – or care – where Cruz, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders are going before they arrive in New Hampshire? No. We know they’ll be in New Hampshire in time for the primary, 'nuff said.
There’s just no reason to be urgently distributing Carson’s travel itinerary the day of the caucus. Unless, maybe, you’re trying to mislead people into thinking that Carson was going home for good.
And Cruz would be the first to benefit from this election-day rumor, as he has over the past three months as Carson has lost support. Likely, the rumor didn’t shift enough votes to alter Cruz or Carson’s ultimate standing (first and fourth place, respectively). But, “what difference, at this point, does it make,” shouldn’t be anyone’s go-to defense, especially not this year.
No doubt, if another campaign had pulled the same stunt with Cruz – “Ted’s going home after Iowa!” – he would be calling them out for playing dirty (not trying to blame CNN, as Sean Hannity oddly suggested). As for Cruz saying his campaign was simply “updating grassroots leaders”? Ahem, “horses**t.” Since when do grassroots leaders care about a competitor going home to pick up a fresh set of clothes?
No, either someone in Cruz’s campaign purposely decided to spread a story that they knew would mislead people into thinking Carson had quit the race, or someone in Cruz’s campaign jumped the gun, repeating the “news” that Carson had quit without bothering to validate it by hunting down the “campaign suspended” press release.
Either way, someone in Cruz’s campaign should be fired.
It won’t do anything to change the Iowa results. But it will make all the difference in whether Cruz is determined to lead a responsible, honest campaign.
Feature Image: AP/Patrick Semansky
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