“Ted Cruz didn't win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!” Trump said in a Twitter post Wednesday morning.
“Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified,” he added in a subsequent tweet.
Tensions between the Carson and Cruz campaigns have simmered since Monday night's Iowa caucuses, when reports emerged — as voters filed into their voting precincts — that Carson would be leaving the campaign trail the following day to return home to Florida. Many interpreted it as a sign that he would drop out of the presidential race entirely, which Carson’s team strongly denied.
But on the ground, Cruz staffers at several precincts reportedly began telling voters about Carson’s departure, potentially discouraging them from voting for Carson on the assumption that their votes would otherwise be wasted. The rumor spread widely before the campaign could contain it. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a prominent figure in Iowa and a Cruz supporter, at one point tweeted: "Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope.”
Trump's comments on the controversy have served to escalate the conflict, transforming the disagreement between Carson and Cruz into an unprecedented call to discard the caucus results. Trump indicated during an interview Wednesday afternoon on Boston Herald Radio that he may sue over the issue.
The Cruz campaign responded tersely to Trump's remarks Wednesday, calling him a sore loser.
"Reality just hit the reality star — he lost Iowa and now nobody is talking about him, so he’s popping off on Twitter," said Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler. "There are support groups for Twitter addiction; perhaps he should find his local chapter."
Cruz's first-place finish defied polling in the state, which indicated that he was trailing Trump in the final days before the caucuses. The real estate mogul ultimately came in second place, taking 24 percent of the vote to Cruz's 28 percent. Sen. Marco Rubio trailed just behind Trump in third place with 23 percent.
Carson — who finished fourth with 9 percent of the vote — had been sustained in Iowa by his sizable support among Christian evangelical voters despite a sharp decline in national polls since November. Cruz's campaign strategy and voter turnout effort rested heavily on courting those same voters, which the senator has pursued more persistently and aggressively than any other candidate next to Carson.
Although Iowa strategists long predicted that Carson's campaign did not have the organic support or campaign infrastructure to pull off a victory in the state, the campaign believed he could finish in the top three and ride the momentum into the next nominating contests.
Other candidates have kept a careful eye on Carson's base in hopes of absorbing his voters if and when he drops out.
Carson and his campaign lashed out at Cruz on Monday night, calling the victory “tainted.” The doctor later said that Cruz had told him he did know about the campaign's actions. And after initially downplaying the criticism, Cruz publicly apologized to the Carson campaign.
“He is a wonderful and talented individual, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time together on the campaign trail," Cruz said of Carson in a statement to The Post. "What the team then should have done was send around the follow-up statement from the Carson campaign clarifying that he was indeed staying in the race when that came out."
Carson accepted Cruz's apology Tuesday evening but continued to disparage the campaign's actions.
“These 'dirty tricks' political tactics are part of the reason Dr. Carson got into this race and reflect the 'Washington values' of win at all cost — regardless of the damage to the country — which he is trying to change," his campaign said in a statement. "This incident further demonstrates that we need an individual who is not a politician to lead and to heal our nation, not someone driven by ambition."
Tyler, speaking for the Cruz campaign, addressed the allegations of misdeeds Tuesday morning — before Cruz issued the apology — saying on MSNBC that "it's just false."
"We simply as a campaign repeated what Ben Carson had said in his own words. He said after Iowa he was going to go back to Florida for a couple of days and then he was going to go to D.C. to the prayer breakfast. And what that told us was he was not going to New Hampshire," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday. "That's not a ‘dirty trick.’ That was really surprising by a campaign who was once leading in Iowa saying he's not going to come to New Hampshire. That's a news item."
Rubio seemingly agreed with Trump's comments and slammed the Cruz campaign.
"Obviously, we’ve all seen the reports of the rumors [the Cruz campaign] spread about Ben Carson. You know, those weren’t accurate, and I thought it was unfair to Ben," Rubio said in Laconia, N.H. "And, you know ultimately I think it goes back to what I’ve said before and that is a willingness to say or do anything, in this case spread a false rumor about Ben Carson.”
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who has endorsed Trump and campaigned with him in Iowa the weekend before the caucuses, lauded Trump's comments and attacked the Cruz campaign for "this lack of accountability" from Cruz.
“Thank heavens Donald Trump opened so many eyes to the lies, corruption and total lack of accountability that come so naturally to the permanent political class. And Sen. Ted Cruz was spot on when he once noted that 'millions of Americans are asking for accountability and truth.' Which is why it's so curious -- and saddens us -- this lack of accountability with the lies of Cruz's own campaign,” Palin wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday. “Cruz's campaign chairman, U.S. Representative Steve King, is lying, and good for Dr. Ben Carson for calling this out,” she added.
The Republican National Committee and the Iowa GOP did not immediately return requests for more information about how voter fraud complaints can be formally filed.
Jenna Johnson, Katie Zezima and Sean Sullivan contributed reporting.