On Wednesday morning, two days after losing the Iowa Republican caucus to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump accused the Texas senator of stealing the election. According to Trump, Cruz’s campaign committed “fraud” by sending direct mail pieces to lapsed Republican voters and by spreading public reports that pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson might be dropping out of the race.
On the night of the Iowa caucuses, Ben Carson accused Ted Cruz’s campaign of spreading false rumors about his campaign suspending its bid for the GOP nomination. Cruz’s people had been pushing a report that originated with CNN, which reported that Carson was planning on going home to Florida after the caucus instead of traveling to New Hampshire or South Carolina.
With his poor showing and diminishing numbers, it was not outlandish to deduce from this that Carson was toying with the idea of dropping out. Turns out he wasn’t. It turns out Carson only planned to briefly return home so he could grab some “fresh clothes.” Part of the incident can be chalked up to the ambiguous comments coming from Carson’s amateurish campaign and the other part to Cruz’s campaign doing what campaigns tend to do: push narratives and stories that help them win elections.
But unless new evidence emerges, Trump’s accusations of fraud and illegality are as absurd as his calls for a new election. Moreover, even if we believed Trump’s charges, under no scenario does he win Iowa.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2016
Let’s say deception was afoot. Where is the evidence that the CNN story or the Cruz tactic changed the dynamics of the race at all? Carson’s RealClearPolitics polling average was 7.7 percent—with some of the better polling putting him at 9 percent. One poll even had him at 10 percent. He finished the night with 9.3 percent of the vote. This seems right, and probably a little better than expected. Carson’s numbers had taken a nosedive since peaking on Nov. 1st, and there was no evidence that a Carson surge was underway. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Even if we concede, for the sake of discussion, that Carson lost two or even three thousands voters to the rumor (which is pushing it), nothing changes. Even if Carson finished at 10 percent or 12 percent, the political outcome is the same. To believe Trump was cheated out of the race, you have to accept that Carson lost more than six thousand supporters, and all of them went to Cruz. Well, Carson pulled in a little over 17,300 votes.
In truth, it’s far more likely that any Carson defecting voters would have dispersed somewhat evenly among the other major candidates. Let’s go big, though, and say Carson lost 15,000 supporters. According to a not-very-scientific NBC poll in early January, Cruz and Trump were tied as the second choice of Carson supports, at 26 percent each. Trump would have been in the same place. In a more scientific and more recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll, Trump was tied with Marco Rubio as second choice. Trump’s favorability tracked way below that of every other candidate except Chris Christie. Considering the Rubio surge, it’s far more plausible that Carson’s lost votes would have gone to Rubio and pushed Trump into third place.
Now, I realize nothing is going to change the minds of Trump and his fans. Believing they were cheated out of Iowa is almost a philosophical necessity. The story helps Trump continue to latch onto to polls as unvarnished Truth and dismiss the idea that he has ever really lost at anything. But even if we believe Cruz cheated, none of the outcomes lead to a Trump victory.