April 27, 2016
This is not how the Cruz campaign drew it up. Donald Trump was in his home region. He led all recent polls in each of the five states. Cruz is only slightly more popular than cholera in Rhode Island. We’d figured he would struggle there. We expected a dismal result in Connecticut. Delaware was hopeless.
Ok. Whatever. It’s not like a GOP candidate is going to win those states in November. Maryland was a bit unfortunate. It appears he didn’t reach 20% there. With Marco Rubio in the way, Ted finished approximately 20 points behind Trump in neighboring Virginia. He trailed by almost 40 this time, with only the ineffectual John Kasich as an alternative.
Progress that is not. I’ve saved the worst for last. Cruz tried in Pennsylvania. At one point he was very competitive in the polls. He made his pitch. Trump made his. Cruz tried to get voters to choose his favored officially uncommitted delegates. Trump said the system was rigged.
This was not a particularly Trumpy state. As late as mid-March, The Donald was in the low-mid 30s, below his national average. While Trump understandably brags about doing well in both Massachusetts and Alabama, neither state is competitive in anything but an absolute landslide general election. Pennsylvania is another story.
True, Republicans haven’t won there since 1988, but Democrats have only done a couple/few points better there than their national vote share. In 2012, Barack Obama only ran 1 point ahead of his average. If Trump is going to give Hillary Clinton a real fight, he needs to win the Keystone State.
Cruz has it on his list of fall targets too. Given all of the above factors, if Cruz is a real contender for the nomination, you would expect him to finish well ahead of Kasich and within shouting distance of Trump. When they called it for The Donald the instant the polls closed it was a bad sign.
Trump fell just short of 60 percent. Cruz barely cracked 20. Less than a month ago, a Qunnipiac poll had them separated by only 9 points. This is a solid outfit that conducts national polls and has covered virtually every competitive individual primary. If they had that result then (survey conducted 3/30-4/4), it means Pennsylvania was competitive as recently as April 4.
Cruz won Wisconsin on April 5. Three weeks later, Trump beat him by almost 40 in a bellwether state. On the morning of April 6, many assumed GOP voters had confronted themselves with the prospect of Nominee Trump and said no. Wisconsin voters were not ready to ratify The Donald and chose to continue to the contest.
Pennyslvania voters had the opportunity to support Cruz as an alternative. Instead, when confronted with the chance to help him towards a second or third ballot win, they replied HELL NO.
It was a startling rebuke. And it’s not like Kasich, who governs the next state over, did any better. Given what we should have expected and where polls were a few weeks ago, Pennsylvania sticks out more, but Trump won a higher percentage of votes than Clinton in 4 of the 5 states (Maryland was the exception.)
So Kasich + Cruz < Bernie.
During his election night speech (begun before the polls closed), Cruz held up the front page of USA Today. The headline said “Almost 40 Percent of GOP Voters won’t Support Trump in November.” His point was those numbers indicate a Republican defeat if they pick The Donald.
Maybe/probably so. The catch is only those 40 percent opted for Cruz or Kasich yesterday. Anyone even remotely ok with Trump voted for him. He got undecideds. He got those who would normally like a Kasich-type. He got those who would normally prefer a consistent conservative.
Five states took the microphone and said “You guys suck. We’ll take our chances with Trump.” The party is hardly sold on their almost presumptive nominee. The #NeverTrump group hasn’t gone away. Around 40 percent really are opposed, a number similar to the Republicans who couldn’t bear Barry Goldwater in 1964 or the Democrats who wouldn’t tolerate George McGovern in 1972.
It’s a big, bad number, and nothing yesterday indicated any subtraction. But this contest ends with another Trump win in Indiana. It’s less than a week away. Cruz now needs Indiana voters to both reject The Donald and choose him. The evidence is showing #NeverCruz is a bigger group than #NeverTrump.
Rubio is sitting at home lamenting his New Hampshire debate choke. Along with GOP senators and representatives looking at tight races this fall, he’s wondering what might have been. After all, he still has more delegates than Kasich and will until May 17 at the earliest.
Six days until Indiana.