A lament for the supposedly cohesive conservative grassroots is in order.
Earlier today, I cheered that the Tea Party had infiltrated and co-opted the establishment – that Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) ascension as an establishment favorite demonstrated that the grassroots had successfully pushed the Republicans to the right. Rubio is significantly more conservative than Senator John McCain (R-AZ) or Mitt Romney was, and far more conservative than establishment favorite former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
All that is true.
But reports of the establishment death may have been premature. Not because they're good at what they do, mind you, but because grassroots conservative favorites are making fools of themselves.
If Tea Partiers had to choose three figures they most admired one year ago, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Dr. Ben Carson, and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) would surely be near the top of the list. And now the first two are mud wrestling the third – all to the benefit of populist shaman Donald Trump and establishment favorite Rubio.
Carson’s campaign announced to CNN on Iowa caucus day that he’d be flying back to Florida following the caucuses no matter the result, and would spend no time in New Hampshire or South Carolina this week, instead going to Washington, D.C. for the National Prayer Breakfast. Jake Tapper of CNN stated, “It’s very unusual, to announce that you’re going home to rest for a few days, not going on to the next site.” Dana Bash agreed, “Very unusual…Look, if you want to be president of the United States, you don’t go home to Florida. That’s just bottom line, that’s the end of the story. If you want to signal to your supporters that you’re hungry, that you want them to get out and campaign, you have to get out there too, it’s very unusual.” Tapper reiterated, “Very unusual.” To which Wolf Blitzer said, “Very significant news indeed.” CNN also tweeted the news: “After the #IACaucus, @RealBenCarson plans to take a break from campaigning.”
Based on this, a member of the Cruz campaign sent out this email: “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 Ted Cruz.”
This is not an unreasonable assumption. If any candidate now chooses to leave the campaign trail for a week to go home, that’s a good indicator the campaign is over.
Carson still has not explained where CNN got its information. Carson later said that he went to Florida for his laundry – no laundromats in Iowa, Dr. Carson? – or to sleep in his own bed.
Nonetheless, Cruz apologized to Carson for the email -- likely in order to quash evangelical unease about Carson's claims. But that wasn’t enough. Today, Carson called a press conference at which he essentially stated that Cruz ought to fire somebody or be held accountable for campaign dirty tricks. (Carson called no such press conference after Trump suggested that he was "pathological" like a child molester.) This, of course, gave cover to Donald Trump, who has been claiming that the Cruz campaign’s missives about Carson amounted to voter fraud, and that he wanted the results in Iowa overturned.
Meanwhile, Sarah Palin entered the fray, too. Palin’s endorsement of Trump shocked a lot of conservatives, and for good reason: Trump is most of the things Palin once supposedly despised, a big government crony capitalist with New York values. But today, she went to the mat for Trump: she called Cruz a liar and a dirty trickster. “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,” she wrote on Facebook. She accused Rep. Steve King (R-IA) of lying. She concluded, “Where is the accountability for these political actions? Very sad; typical Washington tactics. THIS is why ‘the status quo has got to go.’”
Cruz hasn’t responded to any of this. Instead, he’s focusing on Trump, who has been pushing the “Cruz cheated” narrative; today, Cruz said that Trump might “nuke Denmark.” At this point, war has been forced on Cruz by Trump. But that doesn’t mean that all of this doesn’t look like we’re approaching Peak S***show here in the conservative grassroots land.
Meanwhile, Rubio – the new establishment favorite, even if he’s more conservative than normal establishment types – sits on the side and grins. This afternoon, as Carson and Palin and Trump attacked Cruz, Rubio deliberately avoided attacking Trump, instead focusing his fire on Cruz as well:
Obviously we've all seen the reports of the rumors they spread about Ben Carson, and you know those weren't accurate and I thought it was unfair to Ben. You know, ultimately I think it goes back to what I said before — and that is [Cruz's] willingness to say or do anything, in this case, spread a false rumor about Ben Carson.
Of course, Rubio’s campaign apparently also pushed the Carson rumors. But no matter. The mud fight is on. It’s all ridiculous and unprofessional and insane. And what’s worse, all of it makes conservative grassroots types look foolish for their pick of favorites.