LAS VEGAS, Nevada — It’s hard to run a campaign on the slogan “TrusTED”—as Ted Cruz is doing—when everyone thinks you’re a dirty trickster.
As allegations of shady behavior continue to erode his image, just a day before the Nevada caucuses Cruz dismissed a senior staffer who circulated a false news story that questioned fellow GOP candidate Marco Rubio’s faith.
“I had made clear in this campaign that we will conduct this campaign with the very highest standards of integrity,” Cruz said in making the announcement to a group of reporters in a small meeting room at a YMCA in northern Las Vegas. “That has been how we’ve conducted it from Day 1.”
The firing is the latest indication that the Texas senator is concerned about the narrative that has gained strength with each passing state—that far from being “TrusTED,” he is a con artist, a cheater, and a liar.
That’s the line of attack Donald Trump has hammered away on for weeks and it finally seems to have worked.
The Cruz campaign has found itself in the middle of a number of controversies, starting from the first presidential contest in Iowa. Before winning the caucuses, the senator’s campaign circulated information that suggested GOP candidate Ben Carson might be leaving the presidential race, drawing the lasting ire of the neurosurgeon.
The Rubio campaign has criticized Cruz for a photoshopped image that showed Marco Rubio shaking hands with President Barack Obama. Others have slammed the Cruz campaign for sending out an official-looking “voter violation” mailer in Iowa that sought to pressure certain voters to turn out for the caucus.
And in South Carolina, Rubio’s team set up a “truth squad” email address for supporters to report any suspicious activity—essentially emphasizing their claim that Cruz’s camp was not to be trusted to compete honestly. The Cruz campaign also sent out a mailer in the Palmetto State that critics accused of being racially-tinged: an illustration that morphed Rubio and Obama’s faces together.
The most recent incident involved communications director Rick Tyler, who was forced to apologize after posting a story that alleged Rubio told Cruz’s father that the Bible did “not have many answers” in it. The story included a video with incorrect subtitles—Rubio was in reality praising the Bible.
Rubio’s campaign wasted no time to use this as an opportunity to blast Cruz as untrustworthy.“Rick is a really good spokesman who had the unenviable task of working for a candidate willing to do or say anything to get elected,” communications director Alex Conant told The Daily Beast. “There is a culture in the Cruz campaign, from top to bottom, that no lie is too big and no trick too dirty. Rick did the right thing by apologizing to Marco. It’s high time for Ted Cruz to do the right thing and stop the lies.”
Trump immediately pounced on Cruz, practically taking credit for Tyler’s demise.
Trump also blamed Cruz’s “dirty tricks” for why he lost the evangelical vote in South Carolina.
Finally, Trump tried to delegitimize Cruz’s only win by continuing to hammer away on the fraud theme.
Even some Cruz supporters, who are willing to give the candidate the benefit of the doubt, worry about how nasty the campaign has become. Andrew Russell said he thought circulating information about Carson’s potential dropout on the night of the Iowa caucuses was “a dirty trick.”
“I don’t know if I would point it to Cruz directly, as opposed to his campaign. I saw on Fox News that he fired his communications director today. So I think maybe people on his team have probably gone too far… they’re definitely dirty tricks. I definitely don’t like it, but I’m willing to overlook it,” Russell told The Daily Beast. “This election process in general has become way too negative, way too harsh.”
Other die-hard supporters blamed Cruz’s opponents for dragging the entire presidential campaign into the mud.
“His campaign is positive, because he’s not attacking anybody… Rubio, Carson, and [Donald] Trump all [are] basically lying about him, so I think they’re the ones running a negative campaign,” said Sheila Rhinehart, a Cruz supporter, who called the Iowa caucuses incident “unfortunate.”
Meanwhile, at a Trump rally the night before the Nevada caucuses, many supporters of the businessman said that they had once strongly considered Cruz but felt they could not trust him.“He has a slogan TrusTED. People are looking for hypocrites and they want to slam hypocrites… when you ‘TrusTED’ and he does something slippery, [people will say], ‘look at that hypocrite,’ you know?” said Fred Baniecki. “I kind of [was] off-and-on [with Cruz]. Then there was that thing with Carson in Iowa… that was a little slippery.”The incident with Carson during the Iowa caucus was a turning point for many of those Trump fans, who said that they could not trust Cruz after it.“I don’t like what he did to Ben Carson—I don’t like what he’s saying about Rubio. He’s just not sincere. Donald Trump all the way,” said Annette Virgil. “He could have [earned my vote] if he were more sincere.”“I was a Trump/Cruz person for a while... it’s the overall trustworthiness of it all. He seems to be lying,” said Norm Titcomb. “He’s stretching the truth—he just fired one of his people there because they were stretching the truth. I think he’s a little desperate.”
The senator tried to make nice with Carson after the Iowa caucuses incident. Despite a face-to-face meeting in a large closet in South Carolina, the two candidates did not make amends.
That said, Carson’s campaign didn’t gloat.“We respect the right of every candidate to handle their own campaign personnel matters,” Larry Ross, Carson’s director of communications told The Daily Beast.
The Texas Republican has insisted from the beginning of the campaign that he would refrain from criticizing other Republicans, frequently citing Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not criticize another Republican.”
“When other campaigns attack us personally, impugn my integrity or my character, I don’t respond in kind,” Cruz insisted Monday as he justified firing Tyler.
The senator announced his decision to ask for Tyler’s resignation in a small, nondescript meeting room at a northern Las Vegas YMCA, before taking the stage and delivering his standard stump speech. To his supporters, he made no mention of his dramatic announcement. It was a shock, perhaps even to Tyler himself, who reportedly stormed off an MSNBC set when the news broke, even though he was scheduled to appear on the air.
“Rick Tyler’s a good man,” Cruz told the press. “This was a grave error of judgment. It turned out the news story he sent around was false, but I’ll tell you, even if it was true, we are not a campaign that is going to question the faith of another candidate.”
Cruz faces a seminal moment in his campaign Tuesday: a neck-and-neck race with Rubio for second place in the Nevada caucuses, and then a race to a slew of states that will be contested on March 1, also known as Super Tuesday. If he can’t build trust, Cruz could be obliteraTED.