Sen. Ted Cruz fired his chief presidential-campaign spokesman after the staffer shared a false story about rival Sen. Marco Rubio supposedly insulting the Bible.
Mr. Rubio’s campaign said the move by Rick Tyler, the Cruz staffer, was more evidence of a “culture” of lies and deceit within Mr. Cruz’s political operation — charges that have begun to hurt the Texan’s White House bid.
Mr. Cruz explained his decision while campaigning in Nevada, ahead of Tuesday’s caucuses there.
“Yesterday, a staffer from our campaign sent out a tweet that tweeted a news story that purported to indicate Marco saying something negative about the Bible,” Mr. Cruz said. “The news story was false. That staffer deleted the tweet, apologized and pulled it down … I’ve spent this morning investigating what happened, and this morning, I asked for Rick Tyler’s resignation.”
Mr. Tyler appears frequently on television on behalf of the campaign and said earlier Monday on Fox News that he made a mistake and would never knowingly share a false story. He had directly apologized to Mr. Rubio on his Facebook page.
The story Mr. Tyler shared on Twitter — then deleted — was from the Daily Pennsylvanian, and quoted Mr. Rubio, referring to the Bible, as saying there were “not many” answers in the book.
Both Mr. Rubio and Mr. Tyler, though, have since said Mr. Rubio was actually speaking positively about the Bible. Mr. Rubio said Monday that he actually said that “the answer to every question you’ll ever have is in that book.”
The charges of dirty tricks have begun to pile up against Mr. Cruz. It began with questionable mailings to Iowa voters. Then, the night of the Iowa caucuses, Cruz advocates spread the rumor that fellow candidate Ben Carson was dropping out of the race.
Mr. Cruz later apologized for that — though he blamed a hasty report by CNN for the erroneous information.
On Monday, Mr. Cruz put the blame on Mr. Tyler, saying he was a “good man,” but even if the story had been true, “we are not a campaign that is going to question the faith of another candidate.”
Mr. Rubio’s communications director called Mr. Tyler, who had previously worked for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a “really good spokesman who had the unenviable task of working for a candidate willing to say or do anything to get elected.”
“There is a culture in the Cruz campaign, from top to bottom, that no lie is too big and no trick too dirty,” said Alex Conant, the Rubio campaign’s communications director. “Rick did the right thing by apologizing to Marco. It’s high time for Ted Cruz to do the right thing and stop the lies.”
Earlier in the day, Mr. Rubio said the Cruz campaign has grown increasingly desperate in its attacks.
“I think it’s a very disturbing pattern of deceptive campaigns and flat-out just lying,” Mr. Rubio told reporters in Nevada.
Donald Trump, the GOP frontrunner, also went after Mr. Cruz in a series of tweets Monday afternoon, calling him the “biggest liar in politics” and saying he should be disqualified from his “fraudulent win” in Iowa.
Mr. Cruz said both Mr. Rubio and Mr. Trump attack him as a serial liar because they don’t want to talk about their own records.
“I think it has been an unfortunate dynamic in this race that my two leading competitors, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, don’t want to defend their records,” Mr. Cruz said. “Whenever anyone brings up their record, they both follow the same pattern. They scream ‘liar, liar, liar’ rather than discuss substance.”
But the perception that Mr. Cruz was running a dirty campaign did appear to hurt him in South Carolina, which held its primary Saturday. Voters going to the polls said they soured on Mr. Cruz in the final weeks of the race — and pointed specifically to spreading the rumor about Mr. Carson in Iowa as evidence.
Mr. Cruz complicated matters more last week when his campaign circulated a photoshopped image showing Mr. Rubio shaking hands with President Obama — though the faces of the two were imposed on an entirely unrelated photo of two other men shaking hands.
“I have made clear in this campaign that we will conduct this campaign with the very highest standards of integrity,” Mr. Cruz insisted Monday. “That has been how we’ve conducted it from day one. It is why, when other campaigns attack us personally, impugn my integrity or my character, I don’t respond in kind.”