Many are accusing Senator Ted Cruz ’s presidential campaign of malfeasance and “dirty tricks.” Democrats and their counterparts in the media have dutifully jumped on it (as one should expect) and there is nothing more Republicans enjoy more than eating their own. So, few should be surprised that accusations are flying all around the campaigns.
For those who are unaware, before the commencement of the Iowa caucus, CNN reporter Chris Moody tweeted a false report that Dr. Ben Carson was leaving the campaign trail. CNN reported the same information and the Cruz campaign did make this information known which likely resulted in an increase in social conservative votes.
But let’s frank: what did the campaign do that was so wrong? They passed along information put-out by the media. The report may have been convenient for Cruz, but a media report from a mainstream media outlet like CNN is fair game. Still, Cruz has apologized for the mistake to little avail as Carson seethes and paints Cruz’s actions as the causation of Carson’s fourth-place placing in Iowa.
“The news story said that Ben Carson was not continuing on from Iowa to New Hampshire; he was not continuing to South Carolina,” Cruz said. “He was going home to Florida. That was a news story CNN had posted. And our political team passed it on to our supporters. It was breaking news that was relevant. Now, subsequently the Carson campaign put out another statement saying that he was not, in fact, suspending his campaign. And I apologized to Ben for our team not passing on their subsequent clarification.”
Carson maintained that he was heading back to Florida to get a change of clothes. This, coupled with the erroneous report that Carson was skipping New Hampshire and South Carolina, directly implied that the struggling candidate was suspending his campaign rather than suffer continual decline.
No- Carson did not formally declare that he was suspending his campaign, but any reasonable person would have assumed as such with the information available.
Similarly, if I say, “Just walking to my car without an umbrella I got absolutely soaked!” any reasonable person would presume I’m stating that it’s raining.
I do not advocate cheating of any kind, but I have long been a realist with regards to certain creative measures to gain an edge in modern politics. I have long been fascinated by Lee Atwater, the (in)famous political strategist who serves as the godfather of modern dirty politics and the mastermind behind the famous “Willie Horton” ad that severely damaged Michael Dukakis’ campaign in 1988.
That is not to say that I don’t wish to see a day where politicians were more noble and humble speeches were enough to win candidates office. But since the days of George Washington, that simply hasn’t been the case in America.
In political theory, this is called the “ratchet effect.” It’s the premise that once a political tool is innovated and used effectively, it becomes more and more common and it becomes difficult to turn-back-the-clock to a simpler time. Scary television ads didn’t used to be the norm; then LBJ’s anti-Goldwater ad “Daisy” changed that. Now, scary ads dominate airwaves.
In business, we can see this effect. Power windows were once a luxury. They became cheaper and now, they’re standard; it’s what we’ve come to expect and it’s weird if they’re not included.
Cruz’s use of the CNN report was opportunistic, but completely in-line with the maneuvering that should be expected in tight races. A competitor for the evangelical vote was reported by a reputable news agency to be appearing to suspend his campaign by avoiding New Hampshire and South Carolina and what, the Cruz Campaign should have ignored this information?
I’m not really a hunter, but if a deer straps himself to my truck and shoots himself, I’m taking him home. If a candidate receives this kind of media-fueled gift, he is obliged to use it to his advantage.
Would it be nicer if each and every candidate on both sides of the aisle maintained a humble “may the better man win” sense of electoral propriety? Of course. But that’s just not how it is- nor is that how it ever was.
In truth, this is an ugly situation, but the real political opportunists are the ones using this episode to stir distrust of Ted Cruz, a candidate who used the tools at his disposal to shrewdly capitalize upon a report that was passed-along with the good-faith belief that it was accurate.
Further, I depart with a single question to ponder: even if we accept this as mean-spirited politicking, it’s also crafty and shrewd. After eight years of getting outfoxed by Putin, Iran and a variety of others, is electing a shrewd politician to advocate for America really the worst thing?