Why The Cruz Campaign Spent Sunday Questioning Whether Rubio Likes The Bible

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*UPDATE: Ted Cruz communications director Rick Tyler posted a public apology to Marco Rubio hours after this story was originally published.*

In the latest sideshow during this circus of an election, the Ted Cruz campaign on Sunday promoted a video that falsely claimed Marco Rubio insulted the Bible.

The controversy started with a post at the The Daily Pennsylvanian blog, an independent student news organization at the University of Pennsylvania. The post, titled, “Marco Rubio has awkward confrontation with Rafael Cruz, Cruz staffer in hotel lobby,” included a video that showed an interaction between Rubio, Cruz's father Rafael Cruz, and a Cruz campaign staffer in the lobby of a hotel in Columbia, South Carolina Saturday morning:

“Got a good book there,” Rubio said to [Christian] Collins, a young Cruz staffer in a suit, about the book he was reading over his cup of coffee.

“Not many answers in it, especially that one” Rubio added tersely and walked out of the lobby without a backward glance.

The post included an update at “2:18 a.m. on Feb. 21: A Cruz staffer just confirmed that the book in question was a Bible.”

Cruz communications director Rick Tyler promoted the Daily Pennsylvanian post on his Twitter and Facebook accounts on Sunday morning. Despite the fact that the Cruz campaign had apparently “confirmed that the book in question was a Bible” around 2 a.m., Tyler still posted the story with this comment: “Watch Marco Rubio's awkward remark about the book a Cruz staffer was reading in the hotel lobby. What book was it?”

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Screenshot of Tweet by @rickwtyler. Posted by Joe Pounder.


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Screenshot of Rick Tyler's Facebook page by Sarah Rumpf.

Rubio campaign staffers and other Twitter users quickly pushed back on the story, arguing that the captions on the video were incorrect, and Rubio had said “all the answers are in there” about the Bible, not that there were “not many answers.”

Eric Teetsel, Rubio's Director of Faith Outreach, was very vocal in criticizing the video and the Cruz campaign's efforts to promote it, calling it “dirty tactics.” Rubio strategist Joe Pounder attacked Tyler's posts as “peddling garbage.”

Rubio communications director Alex Conant tweeted a video that had new captions, calling the Cruz campaign's version a “dirty trick,” and noting that he was there and could be seen in the background of the video.

Doug Stafford, who was the chief strategist for Rand Paul's presidential campaign, tweeted back at Teetsel in agreement, noting that Rubio was “not a jerk to other people's staffers.”

Erick Erickson weighed in as well, linking to one of the many videos where Rubio has professed his faith on the campaign trail.

As Pounder's tweet notes, Tyler deleted his tweet at some point in the late morning or early afternoon, but the Facebook post remained up for most of the day. Reached for comment on the phone late Sunday evening, Tyler told Independent Journal Review that he had seen a “news report” about the story and watched the video. He was not completely certain where he had first seen the story, but he had assumed the story was correct, calling it “interesting,” and decided to share it.

“I assumed the person who posted the story did their job,” said Tyler. “They did not.”

Tyler told Independent Journal Review that he called Collins, the Cruz staffer who was reading the Bible in the video, and asked him about the incident. According to Tyler, Collins backed up the Rubio campaign's version of the Senator's words. “No, no, no, he was very nice to me,” Collins reportedly said about Rubio.

“I realized that the story got it wrong, so I deleted the post," said Tyler. "When he [meaning Collins] told me it was wrong, I pulled it down.” When asked about the reason for the several hours delay in deleting the Facebook post, Tyler said he “forgot” he had the Facebook post until another colleague on the campaign called him and told him, and then he deleted it.

Tyler took a swipe at the rival campaign, adding that unlike the Rubio campaign, they correct stories when they get them wrong. However that is not quite accurate. Tyler did delete the posts at some point after finding out the story was not accurate, but did not post any explanation, correction, or apology.

To be fair, the audio in the video is not that clear. A Mediate article by Alex Griswold on the kerfuffle notes what's called the “McGurk effect,” “where people who are primed to hear something different can hear the same sounds, but come to different conclusions.”

“People hear what they’re told to hear and what they want to hear,” wrote Griswold, who sarcastically praised the Cruz campaign for how they had “managed to become the most crooked and dishonest campaign in an primary that also features Donald Trump.”

Rubio, as Erickson and others have pointed out, has been very outspoken about his faith on the campaign trail. In fact, he has been one of the most outwardly religious presidential candidates during this election cycle, frequently mentioning his Catholic faith and refusing to moderate his stance on issues like abortion.

Last November, he talked about how “God's ways are not our ways,” or earlier this month at a town hall in Easley, South Carolina, he shared his belief that “God is in control of everything.” Then there was his highly praised speech to a group of Iowa pastors in December, where he shared his view of the Gospel. In January, when answering a question from an atheist, Rubio called his faith “the single greatest influence in my life,” an answer that Erick Erickson praised as “remarkable” and “calm, civil, respectful, and powerful.”

People hear what they want to hear. In this case, the Cruz campaign apparently wanted to hear that Rubio — who literally said at a town hall just last month that he won't stop talking about his faith — was willing to insult the Bible.

It's problematic for the growing narrative of dishonesty - whether over voter violation mailers, rumors about Ben Carson, or inaccurate attack lines - that the Cruz campaign has been fighting.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.