Now that the dust is beginning to settle on Ted Cruz’s Iowa win earlier this week, two main questions are beginning to emerge: 1) How did he do it? and 2) What’s next? We won’t know the answer to question 2 until the next few primary contests play out, but we are starting to get a picture of the answer to number 1 — and, like pretty much everything Ted Cruz has ever done, it ain’t pretty.
Here’s what went down: The Iowa caucus was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Just before the caucus began, Ben Carson announced that he was making a stop in Florida to rest before the next primary, instead of traveling directly to New Hampshire or South Carolina or another early primary state.
To be clear: in no way, shape, or form did Ben Carson say that he was dropping out of the presidential race. But that didn’t stop Ted Cruz’s campaign from seizing Carson’s news and sending out a notification through the Ted Cruz mobile app that read:
- “CNN is reporting that Ben Carson will stop campaigning after Iowa…Make sure to tell all of your peers at the caucus supporting Carson that they should coalesce around the true conservative who will be in the race for the long haul: TED CRUZ!”
They sent the notification out right around 7 p.m. as the caucus was beginning. Before the actual voting began, Cruz supporters at various caucus locations around the state announced to their groups that Carson was dropping out of the race, and encouraged Carson supporters to vote for Cruz instead.
Before we continue, let’s have a refresher on how the Iowa caucus works. The Washington Post’s David Weigel explains:
- “A Republican caucus is odd but simple, a peanut-butter-and-tuna-fish combination of a normal election and a PTA meeting. At nearly 900 caucus sites, voters will gather, then hear speeches from whichever campaigns have precinct captains assigned to whip up votes. … Then they’ll write their choices on paper and hand them in.”
The system in Iowa isn’t like your usual election, with voting booths and secret ballots. Groups gather in high school gyms, hear from each candidate’s supporters, and then write down their votes. It’s this system that the Cruz campaign tried to manipulate with his lie about Carson — they hoped that campaign’s precinct captains announcement before voting that Carson was dropping out of the race would sway people who would have voted for Carson into voting for Cruz instead. After all, what’s the point of voting for a candidate whom you think has already given up on the race? Better to support the “true conservative who will be in the race for the long haul.” Or at least, that’s what the Cruz campaign wanted people to believe.
After Ben Carson called him out for his “dirty tricks,” the Cruz campaign has since apologized. They issued an apology statement that, in true Cruz fashion, completely glosses over what they did wrong:
- “Last night when our political team saw the CNN post saying that Dr. Carson was not carrying on to New Hampshire and South Carolina, our campaign updated grassroots leaders just as we would with any breaking news story…That’s fair game. What the team then should have done was send around the follow-up statement from the Carson campaign clarifying that he was indeed staying in the race when that came out.”
What is this “fair game” news story that Ted Cruz is speaking of? Here’s an example of one of CNN’s original tweets, that came out before the caucus began (and thus, well before the Cruz mobile app sent its message):
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 2, 2016
Cruz turned “take a break from campaigning” into “stop campaigning after Iowa.” Ted Cruz, master of semantics, would argue that, technically, that’s not a lie. But the implications of the two phrases are very different, and the Cruz campaign very purposefully rephrased the original Carson story in such a way that they could draw out a positive message for Cruz. The Cruz apology makes no acknowledgement of how they stretched the truth in Cruz’s favor — it’s simply, “It was fair game for us to purposely exaggerate a news story about Ben Carson right before a big vote, but we’re sorry we didn’t update people about our lie after the caucus was over.”
Carson ended up finishing in 4th place in Iowa, while Cruz finished first. Cruz was 4%, or 6,000 votes, ahead of his nearest competitor, Donald Trump. While Cruz’s trick was probably not responsible for all of those 6,000 additional votes, it almost certainly contributed to inflating his lead.
But vote counts aren’t the only reason why Cruz’s actions matter. This is just the latest example of how far Ted Cruz is willing to go with bending the truth in order to get ahead. He’s a skillful manipulator of words, crafting each thing he says just so, in such a way that semantics can let him get away with saying he didn’t technically lie. The Iowa caucus showed time and time again that for Ted Cruz, victory is more important than the truth. If he’s willing to stoop this low for a primary, what depths would he sink to as president? Let’s hope we never have to find out.