UPDATE: Feb. 4, 2016, 5:44 PM ET
Dr. Ben Carson, once a presidential contender leading the GOP polls, found himself swatting away rumors that he planned to drop out of the race in the heat of the Iowa caucuses Monday night.
The rumor was sourced to a single CNN report about Carson’s plans to travel home to Florida after the Iowa caucuses – rather than directly to New Hampshire, as is typical – and was spread by Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) campaign. It sparked a full-blown scandal as Carson claimed the Cruz camp’s tactics hurt his performance in the caucuses and second-place finisher Donald Trump took up Carson’s cause, calling for the election results to thrown out completely over Cruz’s “fraud.”
Here’s a look at how the events unfolded on the night of the Iowa caucuses and the ensuing days (all times EST).
7:45 p.m.: CNN reports Carson is taking a break after Iowa
During CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Iowa caucuses, Dana Bash shared breaking news from reporter Chris Moody that Carson would return home to Florida after the contest.
“Ben Carson is going to go back to Florida, to his home, regardless of how he does tonight here in Iowa. He’s going to go there for several days, and then afterwards, he’s not going to go to South Carolina, he’s not going to go to New Hampshire, he’s going to come to Washington D.C., and he’s going to do that because the National Prayer Breakfast is on Thursday,” she said.
— CNN (@CNN) February 2, 2016
CNN’s Jake Tapper called the announcement from Carson “very unusual” and noted “almost every single candidate” would travel directly to New Hampshire after the caucuses.
“If you want to be President of the United States, you don’t go home to Florida,” Bash responded.
On Twitter, @TheLeadCNN told its 32,000 followers that Carson “will return to FL following #IAcaucus, will not go to either NH or SC.” The account for CNN’s politics section tweeted to 420,000 followers that the retired neurosurgeon “plans to take a break from campaigning.”
7:50 p.m.: Carson camp clarifies he just has to go home for “fresh clothes”
Shortly before 8 p.m., a Carson spokesman tweeted the candidate was “not standing down” and was simply returning to Florida to “get fresh clothes” and dodge a winter storm in Iowa. The spokesman told TPM Carson would be in D.C. Wednesday and Thursday for a “campaign event,” and then would continue on to New Hampshire.
The campaign also disputed rumors that Carson’s trip to Florida was a mid-campaign vacation, which many read as a sign he would drop out.
8 p.m.: Cruz camp notifies supporters that Carson is dropping out
Just as the Iowa caucuses were beginning, some users of the Cruz campaign’s official mobile app received a notification saying Carson was dropping out of the presidential race. The notification cited a report from CNN.
The alert said Carson “will stop campaigning after Iowa” and urged users to tell people at the caucuses “they should coalesce around the true conservative who will be in the race for the long haul: TED CRUZ!”
It also included a photo of a TV tuned to CNN, showing the network’s ever-present “BREAKING NEWS” banner paired with the headline “Campaign: Carson To Take A Break After Iowa.”
8:07 p.m. and 8:29 p.m.: Cruz campaign leaves voicemails saying Carson is ‘suspending’ campaign
Shortly after caucusing began, a caller who identified herself as a member of the Cruz campaign left two voicemails for an Iowa precinct captain to notify her Carson “is taking a leave of absence from the campaign trail.”
The caller urged the captain to tell Carson voters the retired neurosurgeon was “suspending campaigning” following the caucuses, and they should “not waste a vote on Ben Carson.”
8:20 p.m.: Rep. Steve King feeds the rumor mill
Following the Cruz campaign’s lead, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who endorsed Cruz in November, tweeted: “Carson looks like he is out.”
Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope. https://t.co/lW5Js50EMA
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) February 2, 2016
He linked to a tweet from CNN reporter Chris Moody, which read Carson “won’t go to NH/SC, but instead will head home to Florida for some R&R. He’ll be in DC Thursday for the National Prayer Breakfast.”
10:50 p.m.: Carson alludes to unnamed rivals’ “dirty tricks” after fourth-place finish
In his Iowa concession speech, which the retired neurosurgeon began before the race was called for Cruz, Carson reiterated that he wasn’t “going anywhere.” He also bemoaned “dirty tricks” employed in the caucuses, without assigning blame to any other campaign in particular.
Feb. 2: Cruz apologizes after Carson directly accuses him of playing “dirty tricks”
Carson fingered the Cruz campaign as the source of the rumors he was dropping out and said its shady tactics ruined his chances in Iowa during an interview with “Fox and Friends.”
“At many of the precincts, the information was disseminated that I was suspending my campaign, that I had dropped out,” he said. “And anybody who was planning to vote for me was wasting their vote and therefore they should reconsider.”
Carson told Fox News that his wife, Candy, had to set the record straight at one precinct.
“She spoke at one of the caucus sites and before she got there one of the Cruz people had again disseminated that information to the crowd,” Carson said. “One of the organizers told her ‘I’m so glad you’re here, so you could set the record straight.’ And she did and we actually won in that precinct.”
The Cruz campaign apologized for disseminating the misinformation later in the day, calling the messaging “a mistake from our end.” The campaign conceded in a statement to CNN that it should have followed up with a corrected report about Carson was staying in the race, but argued it was “fair game” for surrogates to disseminate the news that Carson was leaving the campaign trail when it first broke.
For his part, Cruz surrogate Steve King apologized to the Carson campaign for “any miscommunications” during the caucuses.
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) February 2, 2016
Feb. 3: Trump accuses Cruz of “fraud,” calls for Iowa results to be “nullified”
In a string of tweets posted Wednesday morning, Donald Trump said the Iowa caucus results should be nullified or a new election should be held because of Cruz’s alleged “fraud.” In one quickly deleted tweet, he said Cruz “illegally stole” his win in Iowa.
The real estate mogul claimed “many people” voted for Cruz instead of Carson because of the campaign’s alert that Carson was dropping out. He also criticized the Cruz campaign’s “voter violation” mailers, which implied Iowa voters had broken the law.