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We've been following the mini-controversy of the Cruz campaign putting out false word during the caucuses that Ben Carson was dropping out of the campaign. The biggest problem with this controversy or story, as the Cruz campaign is now noting, is that Carson actually outperformed his poll numbers. He was falling consistently and had gone below 10%. So on the face of it, it's hard to see how he was harmed since he seemed to beat expectations.
But there's another part of this.
Going into Iowa, Cruz wasn't just not in first place. He was fading in the polls. There looked to be a decent chance Rubio could beat him out for 2nd place. My own hunch is that the debate really hurt him. He just came off like a preening jerk. But then how do we explain that he won?
Well good question. But there is a lot of at least anecdotal reporting that Cruz had an extremely good ground operation in Iowa - and it really matters in a caucus state. So maybe, because of the debate and general assholery, Cruz already was dropping in Iowa and New Hampshire. (He definitely was dropping in Iowa. Look at his trendline in the chart above over the course of January.) But with a solid ground operation he hustled out a win on the ground even in the face of declining support. Add in some extra numbers from Carson supporters who decided to throw their support behind and you've got Cruz in first place.
I grant that there is a lot of speculation in this scenario. But maybe the polls in Iowa weren't wrong. Maybe it was an anomalous win driven by zero ground game for Trump, extremely good ground game for Cruz and a little extra margin by suppressing Carson's support.
If that's true, his continuing decline in New Hampshire is no mystery. It's just the natural reaction to seeing Ted Cruz.