When Donald Trump decided on Wednesday to question the legitimacy of Sen. Ted Cruz's victory, the overwhelming majority of observers reacted with schadenfreude bordering on glee. As Salon's Scott Eric Kaufman wrote, folks were "happy to pop the popcorn and watch the fireworks."
Yet as more time has elapsed, and the initial emotional satisfaction of needling Trump has been overcome by a desire to know the truth, people are starting to have second thoughts. Because there really was a lot of funny business during the final hours before the caucuses started. Here's what I wrote yesterday about just that:
There’s another classically Trumpian element to this latest break from reigning political norms. It’s not only his complete disregard for the (admirably) well-established expectation that an American politician should not question the legitimacy of any election they happen to lose — though there’s that, too, of course. It’s the fact that somewhere deep in this latest delivery of bullshit from Trump’s alternative universe is, well, a kernel of truth.
No, the Cruz campaign did not commit “fraud”; but there is plenty of evidence that it did play more than a little fast-and-loose, ethically, during the campaign’s waning days. There was, for example, the “rumor,” which circulated among evangelical voters (whose support Cruz desperately needed), that Dr. Ben Carson, a fellow darling of Iowa’s Christian conservatives, was quitting — and that his supporters should therefore throw their weight behind Cruz.
There’s no proof that this emanated from the Cruz team, to be clear. But as Gawker’s Jordan Sargent noted, their denials — they claim they merely “alerted” some Carson supporters that the good doctor would be heading to Florida after the caucuses — weren’t exactly vociferous.
Little more than 24 hours later, the Carson campaign's kvetching — which could always be excused as sour grapes — has been echoed by more disinterested sources. Iowa's Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, for example, who is no fan of Cruz's, had this to say on Thursday:
“This thing that they distributed on Caucus night saying that Dr. Carson was likely to drop out and his supporters should support Cruz, that is, I think, unethical and unfair,” Branstad said this morning. “I think there’ll be repercussions to that.”
Cruz has apologized to Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who finished fourth in the Caucuses on Monday night. Iowa Congressman Steve King, a Cruz backer, helped spread the drop out rumor and Branstad said King owes Carson an apology.
“You know, we have a strong sense of fairness in Iowa,” Branstad said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “Distributing information that was not true about a candidate right at the time people are voting in the Caucuses is an inappropriate thing.”
And now Branstand, Cruz and Trump are being joined in their criticism of the caucuses by the editorial board of the Des Moines Register, the most influential newspaper in the state, which published an Op-Ed on Thursday arguing that the Democratic side of the contest was "a debacle." The board adds:
Too many accounts have arisen of inconsistent counts, untrained and overwhelmed volunteers, confused voters, cramped precinct locations, a lack of voter registration forms and other problems. Too many of us, including members of the Register editorial board who were observing caucuses, saw opportunities for error amid Monday night’s chaos.
And just in case that collection isn't ideologically diverse enough for you already, there's also Esquire's Charles Pierce — whom no one would mistake for a fan of Trump, the Republican Party, or conservatism — and his claim that:
Trump is right about [Cruz]. For all the Scripture he spouts, and for all of his devotion to our God-kissed Constitution, Cruz has the soul of a true ratfcker. And, apparently, the mind of a man who has been assured of a golden throne since birth and is thus justified by his faith in himself and in his destiny to employ any means to gain his just reward. At least Nixon's ratfcking stemmed from his human weaknesses and his inbred paranoia. Cruz believes he is commanded to his by the Lord.
So there you have it, Donald Trump being supported, at least in part, by the media elite he so despises, the Republican establishment he so terrifies, and one of his main rivals for the Republican nomination. Maybe he is a uniter after all.