"The news story said that Ben Carson was not continuing on from Iowa to New Hampshire; he was not continuing to South Carolina," Cruz said. "He was going home to Florida. That was a news story CNN had posted. And our political team passed it on to our supporters. It was breaking news that was relevant. Now, subsequently the Carson campaign put out another statement saying that he was not, in fact, suspending his campaign. And I apologized to Ben for our team not passing on their subsequent clarification."
That's not exactly how things played out, however. The Cruz camp did a little more than just relay a CNN report that Carson was going home.
Here's the text of that email to supporters:
Breaking News. The press is reporting that Dr. Ben Carson is taking time off from the campaign trail after Iowa and making a big announcement next week.
Please inform any Carson caucus goers of this news and urge them to caucus for Cruz.
The implication was that Carson would soon suspend his White House bid, making a vote for him in Iowa a waste. Carson condemned the Cruz email on Monday as a "dirty trick."
In addition, a Cruz spokesman said on CNN Wednesday evening that the "big announcement" mentioned in the email was a reference to Carson's scheduled appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Maybe ... but it sure didn't sound like it.
To be fair, it was perfectly reasonable to think that Carson's confounding decision not to go straight to the next primary state (New Hampshire) might signal the end of his sagging campaign. It certainly crossed my mind when I heard that he needed to pick up "fresh clothes" at home.
But it was still a leap — one that the Cruz campaign pushed supporters to make. And Cruz is playing fast and loose when he says that on the heels of the CNN report, "the Carson campaign put out another statement saying that he was not, in fact, suspending his campaign." Cruz makes it sound as if the Carson statement was a refutation of the CNN report. But CNN didn't report that Carson was suspending his campaign.
Here's how Jake Tapper and Dana Bash described the news on the air:
They described the move as "very unusual" and said it sends the wrong message to supporters, but they did not report that Carson was dropping out. In an online story posted on Tuesday, CNN stressed that it "had not characterized Carson's actions that way." And on Wednesday evening, the cable channel issued a statement:
Senator Cruz's claims about CNN are false. At no point did the network indicate Dr. Carson would suspend his campaign. Our correspondent reported the information provided to him by the Carson campaign. Dr. Carson's staff informed CNN that he would return home to take a "deep breath" before resuming his activities on the trail. That information was reported accurately by CNN across TV and digital.
As we at The Fix noted on Wednesday morning, there is no way that the Cruz email made the difference in his Iowa victory. And Carson should have known better than to announce a break on caucus night, given how easily the decision could be misinterpreted.
But Cruz can't legitimately pin the blame on CNN here. His campaign is the one that implied Carson was about to quit.