What was the point of this press conference? When the statement announcing it went live online earlier, citing “deceptive Iowa caucus tactics” and referencing the Sermon on the Mount, everyone took it as a sign that Carson was about to parachute into the Trump/Cruz war over supposed “fraud” on caucus night and start tossing grenades. Watch Carson’s opening statement, though, which begins at around 1:40 of the clip, and you’ll find him … refusing to mention Cruz by name. Aren’t you talking about Ted Cruz here, ask the reporters? I’m speaking generally, Carson insists — we all need to be better, not any particular individual. It goes on that way for another 10 minutes, an unintentional self-parody of Carson as the “healer” who’s trying so hard to set a we’re-all-sinners moral example that he won’t specifically accuse anyone even when he thinks he’s been personally wronged.
His surrogates sure will, though:
Carson’s close friend and adviser Armstrong Williams told The Hill in an interview on Wednesdaythat the Cruz campaign’s tactics were “nasty, brutal and deceitful.”
“We’ve been told all along that Cruz’s operatives play dirty and were capable of this stuff, but Dr. Carson never believed it, he felt like they had a respectable operation,” Williams said. “Now we see firsthand that having integrity just doesn’t matter to them. It’s about honor and character, either you have it or you don’t.”…
“He’s a pure politician and will do anything to win,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter who he does it to, friend or foe, whatever it takes to win. Cruz has been running as an outsider and calling Hillary Clinton dishonest. Well, Cruz is the one running without honor or integrity, and this shows he’s just like everyone else inside-the-beltway.”…
“After all the candidates worked so hard, and Dr. Ben Carson had a staff member lose his life working towards this day, to have someone like Cruz and his people deceive and spread falsehoods is unconscionable,” Williams said.
If that had come from Carson at the podium here, the media would be on fire right now. It would suggest a Trump/Carson alliance against Cruz, which won’t matter in New Hampshire but could matter in South Carolina. Instead it’s 15 minutes of cat and mouse about the Cruz campaign having circulated a Carson staffer’s announcement during the caucus that he was leaving the trail after voting ended to suggest that Carson was dropping out. About as far as he’ll go is to say that if someone passed along bad information, perhaps the candidate who that someone answers to — a.k.a. Ted Cruz — should take corrective action by firing people. Which, interestingly, led to this exchange at around 11:25 and noted by Leon Wolf:
Reporter: Do you regret, uh, announcing that that you were going to be going back to Florida and spurring some of this confusion?
Carson: Well, I didn’t make that announcement. Uh, I guess somebody talked to … other people…
Reporter: Well, your campaign told the press.
Carson: You know, *I* didn’t say it, so don’t blame me. [laughing]
Reporter: But you’re here telling us that people should know what’s going on in their campaign and hold people accountable, I mean that’s [crosstalk]
Carson: Well, let me ask you this question, is it okay after being on the road for after three weeks to go home to Florida and get a fresh change of cloths? Or is that a problem? Does that make someone into an evil, horrible person?
A Carson staffer whispered something that shouldn’t have leaked to CNN, a CNN reporter tweeted it, then Team Cruz drew an inference and beamed it out — and Cruz is the only candidate here who has trouble controlling his staff? Huh. And here’s double huh:
Trump says he's upset at Ted Cruz for disrespecting Ben Carson.
Which is kinda weird, considering Trump compared Carson to a child molester
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) February 3, 2016
Yeah, remember that? Trump helped destroy Carson with attacks like that in November. Carson slid from 29 percent in RCP’s Iowa average on November 1 to 10 percent before Christmas and settled at high single digits for the final five weeks of the campaign. Arguably Trump did a better job of sinking Carson’s campaign by questioning whether he might be deranged than he did with the “low energy” attacks on Jeb Bush. Yet here’s Carson ignoring all that and zeroing in on an erroneous bulletin that the Carson campaign itself quickly corrected on caucus night. What’s the game here? Just trying to claw back some social conservative voters from Cruz before South Carolina? Eager to regain a foothold in the media?
Here’s some back-of-the-envelope math based on Carson finishing with 17,000+ votes on caucus night. If you assume, implausibly, that thousands of Carson supporters peeled off at the last second due to the erroneous bulletin about him dropping out, and if you further assume that those voters split 50 percent for Cruz, 25 percent for Trump, and 25 percent for Rubio and others, you’d need to believe that something like 24,000 Carson voters abandoned him at the last second to generate the 6,000-vote margin over Trump that Cruz ended up with. That is to say, you’d need to believe that Ben Carson’s “true” support in Iowa was something like 41,000 votes total — which would have put him neck and neck with Rubio for third place at around 22-23 percent. Carson’s final polling average in Iowa was 7.7 percent. He would, in other words, have had to nearly triple his expected take to make the “Cruz won because of the Carson bulletin” theory tenable. As bad as the polls were, none of them missed Cruz’s, Trump’s, or Rubio’s vote totals by anything close to that amount. Rubio did six points better than expected, Cruz did not quite four points better than expected, and Trump did nearly five points worse. Carson isn’t claiming that Cruz won because of him, do note, but that’s the theory that’s floating around in some quarters online today. It doesn’t fly. The best you can do here to indict Cruz is to claim, without hard evidence, that Carson would have finished several points higher if not for the bulletin, which would have left him better positioned in South Carolina than he currently is. Although even there, he’ll be on the far outside looking in at what’s likely to be a three-man race among an electorate that’s voting strategically.