Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson on Tuesday pointedly accused Ted Cruz’s campaign of spreading false rumors during the Iowa caucuses claiming the retired neurosurgeon was suspending his bid, in a coordinated effort to seal Cruz’s victory Monday night.
The stunning charge came as a Carson spokesman declared, “There has never been a more tainted victory in the Iowa caucuses.”
Early reports that Carson – who was directly competing with Cruz for social conservative and evangelical supporters – was leaving the campaign trail started to surface as caucusing began Monday evening.
Upon hearing reports that their candidate was leaving the trail to return to his home in Florida, Team Carson responded swiftly, saying the retired neurosurgeon was only going home for clean clothes but was then headed to New Hampshire for the Feb. 9 primary.
But Carson told Fox News Tuesday morning that Cruz supporters and representatives took that narrative a step further, and began telling caucus-goers at “many” precincts that he was dropping out.
Speaking on Fox News’ “Hannity,” Cruz apologized on Tuesday. He said their political team had forwarded an initial news report that said Carson was taking a break from the campaign trail, but did not forward an update to that same story.
“Unfortunately, they did not then forward the subsequent story, that was Ben’s campaign clarifying that he was continuing the campaign and was not canceling the campaign,” Cruz said. “And so I apologize to Ben for that. They should have forwarded that subsequent story. That was a mistake on our part.”
Carson's campaign issued a statement Tuesday evening saying he "accepted" Cruz's apology.
On Tuesday morning, Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler also told MSNBC that the campaign simply repeated what Carson had said: that after Iowa, he was returning to Florida for a couple of days, then going to Washington for the National Prayer Breakfast.
“That told us he was not going to New Hampshire,” Tyler said. “That was not a dirty trick.”
Carson, interviewed earlier on “Fox & Friends,” said that his supporters were told Monday that “voting for me was wasting their vote, and that they should reconsider.”
Carson ended up finishing a distant fourth in Iowa, with 9 percent, while Cruz claimed a big victory over Donald Trump. Cruz, a Texas senator, had 28 percent, and Trump had 24 percent. How much the drop-out rumors may have affected that count is unclear. But the interactive caucus process does offer an opportunity for supporters of one candidate to be persuaded to change sides before casting their ballot.
The usually mild-mannered Carson accused the other side of using the process to execute “dirty tricks.”
“It’s the exact thing the American people are tired of,” he said. “Why would we want to continue with this kind of shenanigans?”
He said his suspicions were also confirmed by tweets, “other correspondence,” and a first-hand experience by his wife at a precinct.
Carson said his wife Candy arrived at the precinct to learn that a Cruz supporter was “disseminating” the misinformation and was asked to set straight the record.
“She did, and we won that precinct,” he said.
Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope. https://t.co/lW5Js50EMA— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) February 2, 2016
One of the tweets, Carson noted, came from Rep. Steve King, a Cruz supporter and an influential Iowa Republican.
King later tweeted that he respects Carson and regrets any "miscommunications."
Carson said if Cruz was unaware of the tactics, then he should find out who was involved and fire them. And if Cruz knew about the effort, he should admit his involvement and “offer a solution,” Carson said.
The Cruz campaign is also taking heat for a “mailer” it sent out to potential voters before caucus night that seemingly accused them of voting violations.
Tyler earlier told MSNBC that Iowans are used to getting similar ones and that the campaign “modeled ours after them.”