Shortly after media outlets called Iowa for Ted Cruz on Monday night, a weird hashtag caught fire on Twitter: #MicrosoftRubioFraud.
Prior to the caucus itself, Donald Trump was widely expected to win the state's Republican caucus. Early, unweighted entrance polls had him in the lead, too -- but as actual votes came in, Ted Cruz slipped past him. By the time the night was over, Trump was in second, with Marco Rubio hot on his heels.
Perhaps since Trump's untested mantra is that he always wins, Trump fans seemed to have some difficulty with the candidate's shift in fortunes. A conspiracy theory emerged, centered on an article at the Trump-leaning site Breitbart: The Iowa votes were tallied using Microsoft software, and Microsoft was Rubio's second-biggest donor. Ergo, Microsoft shifted votes toward Rubio. #MicrosoftRubioFraud.
There are so many stupid components to this idea.
First of all, Rubio had been trending upward in polls shortly before the election and was the favored choice of those making up their minds in the last few days. We explored this extensively on Tuesday, but Rubio's results were not out of line with where the polls were headed any more than Rick Santorum's surprise win in 2012 was out of line for that year.
Second of all, Microsoft is sort of Rubio's second-biggest donor. The Center for Responsive Politics identifies Microsoft as the second-biggest source of funds for Rubio's Senate campaign committee in the 2015-2016 cycle. The grand total in donations from the company is about $33,000 -- versus the $21.7 million Rubio raised in 2010 when he first ran. If Rubio were running for re-election (which he isn't, because he's running for president), that sum would be a minute fraction of what he'd need to do so.
More importantly, most of that money came from various people working at Microsoft. The Center for Responsive Politics tallies up individual contributions and PAC contributions to get a grand total -- so it's not like Microsoft gave all that money any more than it's the case that if eight Walmart employees gave to Cruz that would be a big contribution from Walmart. Microsoft's PAC itself gave less to Rubio than Wells Fargo, Akin Gump and the Cellular Telecom & Internet Association, among others.
(Incidentally: The conspiracy theory appears to center around the idea that Microsoft is pushing for more of a particular type of immigration visa that's popular in Silicon Valley. Lots of other companies are pushing for more H-1B visas, too.)
Other theorists pointed to failures of the Microsoft system during the night as evidence that something was funky. Because if Microsoft wanted to turn a 10 into a 20 on behalf of its favored candidate, it would need to shut down the system to do so.
By far the weirdest part of the conspiracy theory, though, is that Rubio still came in third. Rubio was predicted to come in third; Rubio came in third by less than was predicted. The theory appears to be that Microsoft switched votes from Trump to Rubio to make Trump not come in first -- but then why does that help Microsoft if they want Rubio to win? "Momentum," colorful eggs on Twitter reply, willfully ignoring that Rubio had momentum before Microsoft theoretically intervened.
The evidence at hand suggests that one reason Trump underperformed relative to the polls is that Trump had a sub-par turnout operation. There were rumblings of this prior to Monday, but Monday seems to have confirmed it. This tweet makes that point clearly:
Campaigns poll so that they can know who to target and how. To figure out which voters to drag to the polls. Wishing for turnout doesn't result in turnout.
It's impossible to rationalize away emotion, of course. Whatever reply we offer to Rubio-fraud theorists, some other theory will be tacked on to defend it. It's sort of like when that one presidential candidate said that he'd watched on TV as Muslims celebrated in New Jersey on 9/11. No evidence emerged to defend that idea, but no matter. If you want to believe that the guy who says he always wins actually always wins, you have to come up with a reason why he didn't.
However irrational, Rubio and Microsoft are the chosen culprits.