Donald Trump was surprisingly humble after his second place finish in Iowa. “We finished second,” he told supporters minutes after Cruz was declared the winner, “and I want to tell you something: I'm just honored. I'm really honored. And I want to congratulate Ted, and I want to congratulate all of the incredible candidates, including Mike Huckabee, who has become a really good friend of mine.”
Although boring, it was refreshing to see the Donald display a little decency for a change. Most of us assumed the concession speech was an occasion for Trump to gloat about Jeb's low-energy sixth place finish or perhaps take a few shots at Ben Carson, who apparently fled Iowa for “fresh clothes.” But instead Trump offered a few kind remarks and walked off the stage like a normal, not at all unhinged politician.
Thankfully, that didn't last long.
Trump has returned to form, calling the Iowa caucuses a sham and Sen. Ted Cruz a fraud. After testing out the argument on the stump in New Hampshire yesterday, Trump unloaded on Twitter, accusing Cruz's campaign of stealing the election. “Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus,” Trump wrote, “either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.” “Ted Cruz didn't win Iowa,” Trump added, “he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated....The state of Iowa should disqualify Ted Cruz from the most recent election on the basis that he cheated – a total fraud!”
Cruz's response to Trump was strong and mildly humorous:
“I wake up every day and laugh at the latest thing Donald has tweeted because he's losing it. We need a commander-in-chief, not a Twitterer-in-chief. We need someone with judgment and the temperament to keep this country safe. I don't know anyone who would be comfortable with someone who behaves this way way having his finger on the button. I mean, we're liable to wake up one morning and Donald, if he were president, would have nuked Denmark.”
It's easy to think Trump is just doing what Trump does: ignoring reality, rewriting the narrative, and giving the media a new bone to chew on – and perhaps that's all this is. But he may actually have a point here. I'm not sure the election was a total fraud, but there's no question the Cruz campaign employed some sleazy tactics on Monday.
For instance, Cruz's team sent out mailers over the weekend, which, according to Politico, “showed the name of the person receiving the mail at the top and then gave them a grade on an A to F scale. Below, it showed their neighbors and their voting scores. It urged them to caucus next week and warned, 'A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday's caucuses.'” The mailers might not have violated any laws, but Iowa's Republican secretary of state remarked that they weren't “in keeping with the spirit of the Iowa Caucuses.”
Cruz is also taking heat for putting out a release during the caucuses stating that Ben Carson was skipping New Hampshire and retreating to Florida, implying that Carson was suspending his campaign. Although Cruz later apologized, the damage was already done. Carson's campaign died weeks ago, but he still has a lot of support in Iowa. If Cruz's release deterred even a few Carson supporters, it made a difference. Carson's senior communications strategist, Jason Osborne, condemned the Cruz campaign, saying “it calls into question the results.”
Dirty tricks or not, Cruz probably still wins Iowa, but we'll never know for sure. As I wrote earlier this week, Trump's national strategy was always unlikely to work in a place like Iowa. But Cruz was heavily invested in Iowa; he had to win to stay afloat. He's also deeply disliked by his colleagues precisely because of his sleaziness. So it's no surprise he resorted to these tactics. And even if they didn't sway the election one way or the other, it does raise some serious questions – about Ted Cruz and the process itself.