One narrative that's nagged at Ted Cruz throughout his short political career is how much people really don't like him – not necessarily as a politician or GOP presidential candidate, but as a person. Cruz gingerly acknowledged the problem this way in the third Republican presidential debate: “If you want someone to grab a beer with, I may not be that guy. But if you want someone to drive you home, I will get the job done and I will get you home.”
Still, the Cruz campaign has done a lot in recent weeks to feed that reputation, most recently when a national Cruz spokesman spread the fake story that Marco Rubio was caught on camera disparaging the Bible. The story was as outrageous as it was unbelievable. While quipping there were "not many answers" in the Bible might not seem that scandalous to some, such a gaffe would be career suicide for a conservative politician. Even Marco Rubio isn't that clumsy.
Of course, the whole Rubio-mocks-the-Bible thing turned out to be a complete falsehood, and the Cruz spokesman apologized saying he'd unknowingly shared a "false story." Even if it was an innocent mistake, the episode only underscored Cruz's reputation this primary season as a ruthless political opponent, someone whose campaign will reach pretty low to trip up another candidate.
On Sunday, Cruz's national spokesman fell on his sword and offered this mea culpa. On Monday, Cruz forced the guy to resign, telling reporters, "I have made clear in this campaign we will conduct this campaign with the very highest standards and integrity."
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We've seen this kind of "mistake" from the Cruz campaign before. It was earlier this month, just hours before Republicans in Iowa were set to choose their nominee for president, that Cruz supporters started calling caucus-goers to push the rumor that Ben Carson, then a real rival for the Evangelical vote, was "taking a leave of absence to go off the campaign trail." The message was clear: Carson was on the verge of suspending his campaign. Don't waste your vote. "Caucus for Ted."
It turned out that, at best, the Cruz campaign had taken the kind of lame non-scoop that drives 24-hour cable news conjecture and turned it into a weapons-grade rumor designed to trick people into voting for him. After it no longer mattered, Cruz issued a statement half-apologizing and half-blaming CNN, saying his campaign was just reporting "breaking news" to his grassroots supporters but admitting he should have issued a "follow-up statement" telling them, well, the truth: that Carson was simply making a brief stop in his home state of Florida rather than immediately racing to New Hampshire.
Then, on the eve of the South Carolina primary, the Cruz camp set up a new Rubio-trashing website with an obviously photoshopped image of the Florida senator sporting a big grin and shaking hands with President Barack Obama on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building. Again, the message to Republicans was clear: This is the kind of guy who will pose for a cheesy photo with the President we believe is ruining the country. Evidently the Cruz campaign could not find such a photo, so they just fabricated one. "If Rubio has a better picture of him shaking hands with Barack Obama, I'm happy to swap it out," Rick Tyler, the campaign spokesman that Cruz just fired, told CNN.
It's likely the flap over this BS Rubio story got a lot more attention than it otherwise would have because Cruz cracked the whip over something that's arguably not as bad as other stunts his campaign has already pulled. But if South Carolina made one thing clear, it's that Cruz is having an unexpectedly hard time with Evangelical voters. Maybe Cruz is starting to realize that it's hard to pass himself off as the righteous candidate when his campaign's got a reputation for slinging so much mud.