When things go wrong, always blame the media.
That seemed to be Ted Cruz’s motto during the Saturday night GOP debate as he blamed a conscious decision from his campaign—to circulate the claim that opponent Ben Carson was dropping out of the race just before the Iowa caucus—on a report from CNN.
“CNN reported that Ben was not going from Iowa to New Hampshire or South Carolina, rather he was, quote, taking a break from campaigning,” Cruz said, addressing Carson personally during the debate.
“They reported that on television—CNN's political anchors, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer, said it was highly unusual and highly significant. My political team saw CNN’s report [on] breaking news and they forwarded that news to our volunteers; it was being covered on live television. Now, at the time, I was at the caucuses, I was getting ready to speak at the caucuses just like Ben was, just like everyone else was. I knew nothing about this.”
That very well may be true but the fact is that Cruz’s campaign went ahead and intentionally told potential caucus-goers that Carson was dropping out despite clarifications to the contrary from Carson’s campaign.
The timeline of the events that transpired on the night of Monday’s Iowa caucus go something like this:
Initially, CNN’s Chris Moody reported that Carson would be returning to Florida for a little “R&R,” instead of going on to New Hampshire and South Carolina right after the caucus. He also stated that Carson would stay in the race regardless of the results of the Iowa caucus (where he came in fourth place).
Following that, the moderators that Cruz mentioned said that Carson’s decision was “unusual,” but they never said he was dropping out of the race entirely.
Moments later, Jason Osborne, a member of Carson’s communications team, specified that his candidate was going home to get “fresh clothes” and that he was “not standing down” by any means.
And yet, as Breitbart first reported, Iowa citizens received voicemails after this announcement informing them that Carson had dropped out of the race.
“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,” the call went.
Steve King, a campaign surrogate and avid supporter of Cruz, later tweeted that Carson “looks like he is out,” further reinforcing the narrative.
Before Saturday’s debate, Cruz himself acknowledged that CNN got its reporting right, saying on Thursday: "CNN got it correct. Miracles happen. But that is part of the democratic process to let Iowa caucusers know, here is the news that is breaking. And it is relevant.”
But that answer perhaps didn’t seem politically advantageous when Cruz was asked about the campaign screw-up during the debate. Instead, face-to-face with Carson, Cruz leaned heavily on the line that a media organization was to blame for his campaign’s mistakes.
For its part, Carson’s campaign has told The Daily Beast that the former neurosurgeon accepted Cruz’s responsibility for the gaffe. But in a hastily-scheduled press conference on Wednesday, Carson whiffed on the opportunity to attack Cruz directly.
Since then, as the fight over the kerfuffle has snowballed—with Donald Trump weighing in to bash Cruz—Carson has said that Cruz staffers responsible for the misrepresentations should be fired.
“I think whoever is responsible for blatant lying should be dismissed, yes ,absolutely,” Carson said in an interview with Jake Tapper.
Carson's campaign was not buying Cruz's line tonight. "He's continuing to push a falsehood," Jason Osborne, a senior Carson strategist, said in a conversation with The Daily Beast. "The timeline he's citing is completely inaccurate and he's not accepting responsibility. Is the Cruz campaign now basing all their information on one network?"
He added jokingly that CNN was "the official network of the Cruz campaign."