LAS VEGAS — At a press conference immediately before his rally here in the gymnasium of the Durango Hills YMCA, Ted Cruz announced that he had fired his longtime campaign spokesman Rick Tyler for posting on his Facebook page a false news story that purported to show rival Marco Rubio making a disparaging remark about the Bible. Cruz called Tyler’s action a “grave error of judgment.”
“I’ve spent this morning investigating what happened, and this morning I asked for Rick Tyler’s resignation,” Cruz said. “We are not a campaign that is going to question the faith of another candidate. Even if [the story] was true, our campaign should not have sent it.”
The erroneous story was originally published by student publication the Daily Pennsylvanian along with a video in which Rubio said, “Got a good book there,” to a Cruz staffer he spotted reading the Bible. At this point the audio in the video becomes hard to understand, and the video used subtitles to allege that Rubio continued, “Not many answers in it.”
In reality, what Rubio said was, “Got a good book there. All the answers are in there.”
Rick Tyler, former communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, in Storm Lake, Iowa, in January. (Photo: Scott Bauer/AP)
Cruz’s decision to fire Tyler, who was one of his earliest hires, was widely seen by the media as an effort to turn the page on the narrative that his campaign has been engaging in dirty tricks. In the wake of Iowa, where Cruz staffers misleadingly suggested that Ben Carson was about to drop out of the race, the Rubio campaign has repeatedly claimed that Cruz is “willing to do or say anything to get elected,” and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump has been even more direct, calling Cruz a “liar” at nearly every campaign stop. The charges seem to have resonated with evangelicals in South Carolina, where Cruz delivered a disappointing third-place finish despite the state’s conservative reputation and favorable demographics.
Trump immediately took to Twitter to crow that the Tyler incident reinforced what he’s been saying about Cruz all along. “Ted Cruz has now apologized to Marco Rubio and Ben Carson for fraud and dirty tricks,” Trump tweeted. “No wonder he has lost Evangelical support!”
The Rubio campaign soon piled on, with spokesman Alex Conant insisting that it was actually Cruz, not Tyler, who was at fault and using the fracas as an opportunity to repeat his team’s favorite line about Cruz.
“Rick is a really good spokesman who had the unenviable task of working for a candidate who is willing to do or say anything to get elected,” Conant said in a statement, adding that “there is a culture in the Cruz campaign, from top to bottom, that no lie is too big and no trick too dirty.”
The Cruz campaign disputed Conant’s accusation. “Marco Rubio’s attacks have been misleading from the beginning, and we’ll continue talking about that,” said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. “We believe voters are smart enough to recognize the difference.”
What isn’t clear is whether Tyler’s firing will change anyone’s impression of Cruz — or whether, in fact, Nevadans will care at all. In the Durango YMCA gymnasium, television reporters from NBC and Fox News rushed in front of their cameras to do standup reports about Cruz’s decision, speculating on the air about how it will impact the race. But most voters interviewed by Yahoo News had no idea who Tyler was.
“I’m not familiar with him,” said Ronald Solomon, a precinct captain for Cruz. “Tell me who he is.”
“No, I don’t know him,” said Jim Butman, a Cruz supporter from Las Vegas. “I guess it’s good that Cruz is getting rid of the disreputable people on his staff?”
Asked if Tyler’s name rang a bell, Brian Davis Carter, another Vegas resident, simply shook his head no.