April 4, 2016
Ted Cruz is probably going to win Wisconsin. If he doesn’t, he’s basically finished as a 2016 nomination contender. I’m not going to worry about what happens if he loses. There’s no good speech for that. Fortunately for him, he’s ahead and usually closes well.
Similar to my usual advice, he needs to work on not sounding like Ted Cruz. This might seem unfair. After all, we’re talking about a victory speech, meaning he would have won. He’s won the vast majority of contests The Donald lost.
Seventeen people entered the contest. Fifteen have fewer delegates than Cruz. Fourteen have already suspended their campaigns or otherwise exited. By most reasonable standards, that counts as success.
Yet with Kasich seemingly the opposite of viable, and Trump less appealing to many than swimming in nuclear waste, Cruz has failed to consolidate party regulars. Even many conservatives worry about his electability against Hillary Clinton, who on a good day would find herself one of the least popular nominees in American history.
This is why I’m going to suggest Cruz prepare a speech unlike his previous efforts. We do not need to hear he’s the only candidate who has beaten Donald Trump, can beat Donald Trump, will beat Donald Trump.
Let’s skip the suggestion that Kasich quit the race. He’s not going to before Pennsylvania votes. He likely won’t even after. If Cruz really wants to get rid of him, and I’d still question if that actually helps Ted, the best thing he can do is convince Reince Preibus to support Marco Rubio keeping his delegates.
Most recently, the GOP chair has suggested those delegates are free to vote as they choose. Rubio is fighting to keep them. If he can’t hold on to them, Kasich can’t exit without surrendering his delegates. Even if he doesn’t have a chance at nomination, he’s not going to pass up playing kingmaker. No delegates, no exit.
Meanwhile, Cruz would prefer to have Rubio’s delegates released. They’re more likely to pick Cruz than Trump. With little chance of getting to 1237 before Cleveland himself, Ted needs these delegates to win on the first ballot.
So quiet about Kasich. He’s not leaving. Pressuring him will make him dig in his heels further. Keeping him around gives you an excuse if Trump sweeps all the April 26 states.
Don’t talk about how well you’ve done against Trump. He’s beaten you two thirds of the time. He’s well ahead of you in delegates. People can count. Failing at that they can google.
While Cruz has done great work at the state level on delegates, most of these victories are in Cruz-friendly states. Whether in places like Wyoming, North Dakota or Colorado where he would have won an open caucus, or Louisiana and Tennesee where in a non-Trump world, Cruz likely wins, he was on home turf.
To clinch the nomination and keep delegates from wishing upon a Paul Ryan, he needs to lock down party regulars in at least some blue states and more purple states. They’ll need to have enough confidence in his prospects to both risk angering Trump partisans and pass up the chance of nominating an alternative to Cruz.
Right now, Ted is trailing Hillary in most polling matchups. It’s not by a lot. They’re fairly equally unpopular with the general electorate, and she would need to win over some undecided voters to get to 50%. It’s not unimaginable he could win.
On the other hand, conventional wisdom is he would struggle. Even with his current struggles, some still think Trump has more general election upside (if a lower floor.) Cruz would face a hostile press and divided country, without being able to guarantee hard core Trumpists will support him.
A win in Pennsylvania would help Cruz tremendously. It would act as the final barrier to Trump reaching 1237 ahead of the convention. It would make Cruz an instant favorite the following week in Indiana.
It would increase the odds of keeping Trump closer to 1100 delegates than 1200. It would eliminate Kasich as any sort of backup for anti-Trump voters. Wisconsin is probably the most important individual primary of the cycle. California is a big deal too. But Pennsylvania is top 3 for importance.
This is even with 54 delegates going in to the convention uncommitted. In fact, because of this, it’s important for Cruz to win, increasing the pressure on the delegation to support him. It’s not North Dakota. The delegates aren’t automatically in synch with him and he has less influence over the slate.
Senator Pat Toomey holds one of the vulnerable GOP seats up this year. The state party is invested in protecting him. Democrats have won most statewide elections in the past decade.
It’s important for Cruz to look and sound like a winner, not just claim he is one. Many Pennsylvania voters and delegates live in the sort of suburban neighborhoods where Cruz isn’t very popular. These are the places where Trump and Kasich are competing for voters.
The same issue applies in the other April 26 states (Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island), but the stakes are greatest here. Ted Cruz needs to sound like someone who could win a general election. Someone your suburban neighbors won’t scorn you for voting for.
He’s managed this a couple times before. First in the early CNBC debate, then in the Michigan debate, he found the right tone, someone more interested in the economy than gay marriage.
At this point, anyone supporting Cruz because of social issues knows damn well where he stands. He’s running against Trump and Kasich, not Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.
Everyone knows he cares about the constitution and second amendment. People who aren’t aware aren’t watching his speech. Same goes for carpet bombing ISIS.
He shouldn’t talk about beating Hillary Clinton. It’s an important topic, but losing to her by less in polls isn’t a strong argument. Once he’s actually ahead of her it’s a topic.
What does that leave?
Cruz should pretend he’s won the nomination after a fight in Cleveland. He’s made his convention speech, but Hillary is still ahead in the polls and the party is divided. However, it’s too early to count him out. Swing states show a very tight race.
He should further imagine he has 10 minutes to speak. People have limited attention at this point. Cruz droned on way too long when he won Iowa.
If he were giving the first stump speech of his fall campaign, what would he say to a mixed audience of stalwart Cruz supporters, skeptical Republicans, Trumpists and undecided Hillary-fearing moderates?
The answer to that question is the right Wisconsin victory speech.