Politics is a fast-paced and unpredictable game, and sometimes, unfortunate things happen. That’s the best way I can describe what occurred on caucus night in Iowa when CNN implied that Ben Carson was dropping out of the Republican race, and the Cruz campaign swiftly alerted caucus-goers that they should consider voting for Sen. Ted Cruz instead.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Shortly before the Iowa caucus was set to begin, CNN’s Jake Tapper reported:
“CNN has learned some news about the man who–at least according to polls–is in fourth place here in Iowa. Now, Dana, a week from tomorrow, we’re all going to be doing this for the New Hampshire primary. So, almost every single candidate is going to be going directly from here to New Hampshire to campaign, except for the man in fourth place, who, a few months ago was in first place here, Dr. Ben Carson.”
Dana Bash added:
“Chris Moody is breaking this news that Ben Carson is going to go back to Florida–to his home–regardless of how he does here tonight in Iowa. He’s gonna go there for several days. Then afterwards, he’s not gonna go to South Carolina, he’s not gonna go to New Hampshire, he’s gonna go to Washington D.C. And he’s gonna do that because the National Prayer Breakfast is on Thursday. And people who have been following his career know that that’s where he really got himself on the political map…”
Tapper followed that up with:
“But it’s very unusual to be announcing that you’re going home to rest for a few days–not going on to the next site. Plus, he’s already announced that he’s gonna be speaking at 9:15 local–10:15 Eastern–no matter, whether or not we know the results because he wants to get home and get ahead of the storm.”
Bash further reinforced the bizarre nature of the story:
“Look, if you want to be president of the United States, you don’t go home to Florida. I mean, that’s just bottom line. That’s the end of the story…very unusual…”
Even Wolf Blitzer chimed in:
“Very significant news, guys.”
The CNN report came approximately 16-minutes before the caucuses began, then CNN tweeted the video at 6:50 Central Standard Time (CST), 7:50 Eastern, ten minutes before the caucuses began:
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) February 2, 2016
Shortly after, Cruz staffer Spence Rogers sent out an email telling precinct captains the news.
According to CNN, the email said the following:
“Breaking News. The press is reporting that Dr. Ben Carson is taking time off from the campaign trail after Iowa and making a big announcement next week. Please inform any Carson caucus goers of this news and urge them to caucus for Ted Cruz.”
Others made similar assumptions regarding CNN’s report:
It sounds like Carson’s campaign is near quitting time. Cruz must be dying that he waited until now.
— Taegan Goddard (@politicalwire) February 2, 2016
— MWePolitics (@MWPolitics) February 2, 2016
Ben Carson announcing post-Iowa vacation. In other news, Ben Carson will be dropping out post-Iowa.
— Cam Harris (@camharris_us) February 2, 2016
Unfortunately, they were just that: Assumptions.
Precinct captain Nancy Bliesman has revealed that she received two voicemails after the CNN report went out.
One at 7:07 CST:
“[Inaudible] from the Ted Cruz campaign, calling to get to a precinct captain, and it has just been announced that Ben Carson is taking a leave of absence from the campaign trail, so it is very important that you tell any Ben Carson voters that for tonight, uh, that they not waste a vote on Ben Carson, and vote for Ted Cruz. He is taking a leave of absence from his campaign. All right? Thank you. Bye.”
And another at 7:29 CST:
“Hello, this is the Cruz campaign with breaking news: Dr. Ben Carson will be [garbled] suspending campaigning following tonight’s caucuses. Please inform any Carson caucus goers of this news and urge them to caucus for Ted instead. Thank you. Good night.”
The Carson campaign corrected the record on Twitter at 6:53 CST, but it seemingly went unnoticed:
.@RealBenCarson will be going to Florida to get fresh clothes b4 heading back out on the campaign trail. Not standing down.
— Jason Osborne (@Jmrhosborne) February 2, 2016
CNN’s Chris Moody also updated his Twitter right after his report at 6:43 CST, clarifying that Carson intended to stay in the race:
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
However, the CNN report with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash didn’t mention that at the time. They only repeated that Carson was not going to New Hampshire and South Carolina, but instead going to Florida and D.C.
Cruz appeared on Fox News Tuesday to apologize for what he called “a mistake.”
— Fox News (@FoxNews) February 2, 2016
He also offered a statement:
“Last night when our political team saw the CNN post saying that Dr. Carson was not going 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.”
Ben Carson was not pleased. Appearing on Fox Business Network, he begrudgingly accepted the apology, but wanted “accountability”:
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) February 2, 2016
So that’s the timeline of events. But here’s the thing. The media, Donald Trump, and many on Twitter have gone on to say that Ted Cruz lied. They keep repeating that. Ted Cruz lied!
Cruz lied about Ben Carson dropping out. He did it before & during the Caucuses. He cost Carson votes.
His apology now doesn't mean squat.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) February 2, 2016
Real "TrusTed" there, Glenn!
— Sara Marie Brenner (@saramarietweets) February 4, 2016
Ted Cruz didn't win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2016
But did Cruz lie? No. Ted Cruz did not lie–and that’s a very important distinction. It appears that Cruz campaign staffer Spence Rogers heard CNN’s report, misinterpreted it, and reported it to precinct captains so his candidate wouldn’t lose votes to a candidate he believed was dropping out.
In the scramble of caucus night, that’s totally understandable. Many on Twitter–as I noted above–made the same assumption. Spence Rogers would obviously want to make that news known because his candidate is Ted Cruz .
This is critical. Ted Cruz didn’t lie.
Carson wants “accountability?” For what? Should Rogers, as well as the captains who repeated his report, be fired for what appears to be a mistake based on a misleading CNN report? I would argue not. And so far, Cruz has apologized for the mistake, and left it at that. There’s not much more that can, or should, be done.
Moreover, at a press conference, Carson–who wants “accountability” for Ted Cruz’s staffer–admitted that his own staff may have misinformed the press about his travel plans:
REPORTER: “Do you regret announcing that you were going to be going back to Florida, and spurring some of this confusion?”
CARSON: “Well, I didn’t make that announcement. I guess somebody talked to other people.”
REPORTER: “Well, your campaign told the press.”
CARSON: “I didn’t say it. So don’t blame me.”
REPORTER: “But you’re here telling us that people should know what’s going on in their campaign, and hold people accountable…”
CARSON: “Well let me ask you this question: Is it ok after being on the road for almost three weeks to go home and get a fresh change of clothes? Or is that a problem? Does that make somebody into an evil, horrible person?”
Umm, no. But that’s not the question she asked. Carson seems to like to answer questions with questions. This was cool when he was fighting the media, but when he’s hitting Cruz for something Cruz didn’t even do, I don’t dig it.
Additionally, Trump’s assertion that Cruz’s alleged lie is the reason he gained so many votes, and that the polls were “so wrong,” is ludicrous. If that’s the reason the polls were “so wrong,” why did Trump lose votes? Why did Sen. Marco Rubio gain more than Cruz? According to RealClearPolitics, Marco Rubio ended the night with 6.2% more votes than the polls predicted, Trump with 4.3% fewer–and Carson was actually up 1.6%.
Oh yeah, Bush was also down 1.3%, Huckabee was down 1.3%, Kasich was down 1%, Fiorina was down 0.7%, and Christie was down 0.6%. Cruz gained 3.7% from the polls.
The Politistick ran a story Tuesday claiming Rubio supporters had also been pushing the narrative that Carson was dropping out. Yet Cruz is the Trump/media/Twitter target. I wonder why? That was sarcastic.
But, that’s classic Trump–and it’s sort of nice to have him back after seeing the unsettlingly polite and classy Trump that gave a speech post-Iowa loss.
That’s the story. It’s being blown out of proportion. Will it hurt Cruz? I doubt it. Because it’s asinine.