No doubt you are aware of the controversy over the Cruz campaign’s sneak attack on Ben Carson on the evening of the Iowa caucuses. The Carson campaign said that when he left Iowa, he would return home for a few days rather than flying directly to New Hampshire or South Carolina. CNN broke the news in a tweet in an on-air report, making Carson’s plan sound odd and potentially significant:
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) February 2, 2016
The Cruz campaign seized on this report, embellished it, and used it to try to switch Carson supporters to Cruz. This memo went out to Cruz’s precinct chairmen, or however they are designated:
Note that the Cruz campaign just made up the part about “a big announcement next week.” Neither Carson nor CNN had said any such thing. Cruz’s forces made that up and included it in the memo to drive home the false impression that Carson was dropping out of the race.
The memo is on Cruz campaign letterhead and signed by Spence Rogers, who is Cruz’s deputy director for the state of Iowa. So, while I haven’t seen any report on whether Cruz was personally aware of, or involved in, the memo, it came from a relatively senior source in his campaign.
Cruz later apologized to Carson, explaining that his staff had sent the memo based on an early CNN report, but when a later report came out with a statement by Carson’s campaign that he wasn’t quitting the race, they didn’t follow up by sending out that report. For this, Cruz said he was sorry.
Donald Trump stirred the pot, accusing Cruz of “fraud” and stealing the Iowa election. He suggested that Cruz should be disqualified or a new round of caucuses held. Neither, of course, will happen. He also reminded voters of Cruz’s egregious “VOTING VIOLATION” mailing.
Those, briefly, are the facts. Will the incident (or incidents, counting the “voting violation” mailing) hurt Cruz? I think so. Both of these dirty tricks originated uncomfortably close to Cruz himself. It is hard to imagine that the candidate didn’t know about the “voting violation” mailing, and he must have realized how false it was.
The conventional wisdom is that mini-scandals like these hurt a candidate when they reinforce a negative perception that voters already have. I think that is the case here. One knock on Cruz is that he is desperate to be president and will do anything to win. While I have generally admired Cruz, I think that critique has merit. My guess is that quite a few voters who have heard that Cruz will bend the rules to win now believe that what they have been told is true. Will that sink his candidacy? No, but it certainly won’t help. And it leaves him vulnerable to worse damage if similar incidents occur later in the campaign.