February 5, 2016
If Ted Cruz falls short in his quest to win the 2016 GOP nomination, we can point to his campaign’s attempt to take advantage of a CNN report to drive Ben Carson voters to them during the Iowa Caucus as the trigger point for his demise. This isn’t to say he can’t win or would have easily won otherwise. But he’s kicked up a hornet’s nest.
It’s the political perfect storm. Iowa has caucus precinct captains. Each of the 1700 or so locations have a representative from any campaign able to supply one. As the best organized on the ground, Team Cruz always had one.
The campaign knew it was locked in a tight race with Donald Trump. Final polls showed them at a small deficit, but they had a stronger turnout operation. The Cruz data team modelled the caucus and was confident of victory up to 170,000 voters.
At this point, they may not have known the final number was north of 180,000, but it was obvious their pre-caucus estimate of 135,000 or so was light. The campaign (at least according to Cruz’s public statements) believed a loss to Trump in the Hawkeye State was potentially lethal.
Somewhere in here, Dana Bash of CNN, on the air as part of the network’s Iowa coverage, made it seem like Dr. Carson was getting ready to exit the race. For reasons beyond comprehension, his campaign decided to mention he was headed home to Florida after the vote in Iowa.
In case you missed the exodus of Carson’s chief strategist and campaign spokesman right before the New Year, his campaign is a mess. Disorganization is always a problem in a presidential race. For a rookie candidate it’s beyond deadly. Without a public record in politics to go from, voters and pundits pay great attention to how well the trains run.
His aren’t. Sometimes they don’t leave the station, sometimes they just derail. At some point the campaign made sure to clarify the Doctor had events already scheduled in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and he was planning on attending the next debate.
Carson wasn’t quitting. He was merely continuing to march to the beat of his own drum corps. CNN didn’t bother to correct the record quickly. Seizing the opportunity Team Cruz sent a quick note to all precinct captains. They said Carson was out and the captains should use this information to convince his supporters to jump to Cruz to make their votes count.
When the campaign soon discovered the message was erroneous (they may have had reason to know this before it was sent in the first place), they failed to send a follow-up correction. Some amount of Carson supporters switched to Cruz. Cruz won the caucus.
Correlation, not causation. Trump led Cruz in the entrance interview polling. Cruz led Trump in the final vote. Candidates strong with evangelical voters tend to outperform in Iowa. Cruz ran several points ahead of his polling average. Carson ran slightly behind to even.
If four voters in each precinct switched from Carson to Cruz, it would account for the whole margin between Cruz and Trump. Not hard to visualize, right? It also probably didn’t happen that way. There was a lot of overlap between Carson and Cruz support. Ted’s rise in Iowa was largely due to the Doctor’s decline.
But it’s hard to imagine every bailing Carson voter would choose Cruz. Wouldn’t a few pick someone else? Let’s assume these precinct captains were very persuasive. Let’s figure they did their lobbying without other captains getting in the way. I’ll stipulate that Cruz could have nabbed 80% of the defectors.
Cruz finished 6,239 votes ahead of Trump. That would have required 7,799 Carson defectors. The Doctor only got 17,395 votes. Unless 31% of his support bled out, the math doesn’t work. Given that the information was distributed after the caucuses begun, and some of the smaller rural caucuses (where Carson was stronger) were already done, I don’t think so.
I’m sure it contributed to the margin, but it didn’t cost Trump a victory. In the annals of political trickery, this doesn’t qualify for much more than a participation trophy. Somewhere (not sure if it’s upward or downward) Richard Daley, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon are chuckling about this.
There are three rules of political sabotage. Don’t get caught. Don’t get caught. Don’t get caught. Ted got caught. The loudest mouth in the Western World is making a big deal about it. It goes without saying that Donald Trump is not going to let an opportunity to explain away his loss go unused.
It’s a great sideshow, but not what Cruz needs to worry about. The Carson campaign just cut 50 staffers. That decision likely doomed Ted’s quest. Time to connect the dots.
Dr. Ben Carson is very angry. I’m sure he’s upset Cruz did this. What’s worse is everybody knows about it. Carson is a proud man. He has every right to be. If he wasn’t he couldn’t have achieved what he did or had the courage to run for president. Make no mistake, it takes courage.
He’s soft spoken. His campaign is a train wreck. When he answers a foreign policy question it sounds like he’s attempting to regurgitate a whole briefing in 60 seconds. He is not weak. You don’t get from where he started to where he finished without plenty of steel. He would have never done the same to Cruz.
Ted Cruz has said nice things to Carson’s face. As Ted pointed out when answering questions about the incident, they and their wives have shared a meal before. All the worse.
Carson doesn’t have enough voters to get nominated. He doesn’t have enough to win a single state. He’s completely irrelevant in New Hampshire. But not in South Carolina or the March 1 states. His remaining voters are loyal. He finished fourth in Iowa even with everyone realizing he was effectively doomed as a potential nominee.
A new national poll, taken post-Iowa has him retaining 11%. The Carson campaign burned through money last quarter like the Jeb super PAC. Despite out-raising the other campaigns, it ran a deficit. However, he still has a few bucks left. You don’t pare back your staff if you are going to quit in a couple days and aren’t broke yet.
You make cuts to make sure you can last through March 1. If Carson can keep around 10% of the vote in South Carolina, it becomes very hard for Cruz to win it. Without that victory, he’s got an uphill battle against Trump if The Donald wins the Palmetto State, or Rubio if Marco does. Especially with Carson, who spent quite a bit of time down south last fall, still around.
Cruz made a point of saying he wouldn’t scapegoat any campaign staffers. It’s nice that he has their back, but it reinforces the idea Ted & crew will do whatever it takes. At a time like this, it’s not bad to have a few high-profile friends. Iowa’s Steve King is a supporter, but he also contributed to the abandon Ben messaging on Monday.
It plays into every negative image voters, pundits and insiders have of Cruz. When a candidate spends time playing public political analyst, it’s tough to convince people things like this happen without his implicit consent.
At a time when he wants to go on offense, sweeping up Rand Paul’s remaining voters and finishing ahead of expectations in New Hampshire, it will force Cruz back on defense. When Ted is back on his heels, he digs in to his base-motivating message. That hurts his odds of sounding like the candidate who can pull 35% plus in a three-way race.
If he finishes a dismal third in South Carolina and spirals down from there, this is how it started. I’m hoping he brings some humility with him to the debate tomorrow. Otherwise, he’s going back to the hotel with some holes in him.
I’m not as well versed in the scriptures as Mr. Cruz, who often refers to biblical passages during his stump speech. Perhaps Carson supporters can help me decide if Ted should brush up on Luke 6:31 or Matthew 7:12 first.