Ted Cruz fired his communications director on Monday, in a move that adds more turmoil to a campaign that has been under fire for dirty tricks.
The aide, Rick Tyler, was asked to resign because he had publicized a factually inaccurate video that purported to show Marco Rubio insulting the Bible. The video in fact showed Rubio praising the Bible, but incorrectly captioned Rubio's difficult-to-hear remarks as stating the opposite.
The incident can't be helpful for Cruz's efforts to win over evangelical voters, whom he lost to Donald Trump during Saturday's South Carolina primary.
And it's yet another blow to Cruz's campaign when he can least afford it, since in the wake of South Carolina's results, Cruz is struggling to convince voters that he, not Marco Rubio, is best positioned to take down Trump.
The video purported to show the opposite of what actually happened
On Sunday, Cruz's campaign posted a video to its Facebook page that appeared to represent a major embarrassment for Rubio. (It's not clear who made the video.)
In it, Rubio passes by a young man reading a Bible in a hotel lobby next to Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz's father. Rubio and the young man exchange a few words, which in the video linked by Cruz's campaign included the subtitles: "Got a good book there ... Not many answers in it."
Those subtitles turned out to be wrong. In fact, Rubio told the man, "Got a good book there. ... All the answers in there."
This video has correct transcript; any other is another dirty trick by Cruz camp. How do I know? I'm in the video!! https://t.co/llZGimU5Jp— Alex Conant (@AlexConant) February 21, 2016
Tyler apologized for the "mistake" shortly after the inaccuracy had become clear. But Rubio called on Cruz to hold someone accountable for the oversight, and Cruz responded by asking Tyler to resign from his post, according to CNN. Tyler was about to appear on MSNBC on Monday when he abruptly left after apparently getting the news, NBC News's Katy Tur tweeted.
"I have made clear in this campaign we will conduct this campaign with the very highest standards and integrity," Cruz said, according to CNN, later calling the incident a "grave error in judgment."
Enjoying this whole show from the sidelines was Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, who has for weeks now maligned Cruz as dishonest. (Calling Cruz a "liar" is Trump's "new favorite line," according to Time magazine.)
Wow, Ted Cruz falsely suggested Marco Rubio mocked the Bible and was just forced to fire his Communications Director. More dirty tricks!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2016
Cruz has a growing Pinocchio problem
This whole episode is obviously bad for Cruz for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that he's losing one of his top campaign officials. Perhaps most damning, however, is that this story will already feed existing concerns about the Cruz campaign's honesty.
"Every single day, something comes out of the Cruz campaign that's deceptive and untrue, and in this case goes after my faith," Rubio told reporters, according to CNN. "I'll accept his apology, but this is a pattern now and I think we're now at a point where we start asking about accountability."
Rubio spokesperson Alex Conant was rather less restrained in a statement sent to reporters:
Here's a small sample of a few recent times Cruz has been accused of lying on the campaign trail:
- Dr. Ben Carson accused Cruz's team of practicing "dirty tricks" during the Iowa caucuses by incorrectly telling voters that Carson had dropped out of the race.
- Also during the Iowa vote, Cruz sent out controversial mailers marked "VOTING VIOLATION" to encourage voters to go to the polls — mailers that reportedly contained inaccurate voter information.
- Cruz was then called out in unusually stark terms by CNN for misrepresenting the story during a Republican debate.
- Cruz's campaign also recently released a bizarre photoshopped image of Barack Obama and Marco Rubio shaking hands, according to Mediaite.
There's a silver lining here
Obviously, none of this is good for Cruz. But I think there's a silver lining here for the state of the campaign more generally.
For months, the top Republican candidates have been engaged in a brutal knockout battle of negativity. Personal insults, lies about each other's records, schoolyard taunts — nothing has been deemed out of bounds.
The good news is that, so far as we can tell, this attack really has backfired. It's hard to imagine Cruz would dismiss the aide unless he thought the whole flare-up represented some sort of genuine setback for his candidacy. He seems to think that, finally, his reputation has actually been badly damaged by his dirty tactics.
Now, that doesn't mean Trump, Cruz and Rubio are going to start talking about how great the others are. But it may be comforting to know that even in this Lord of the Flies–style campaign cycle, some of the basic conventions just might retain a bit of power.