Ted in the Driver’s Seat - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Ted in the Driver’s Seat

When Ted Cruz said, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s bombshell 13-point rout of Donald Trump in the Wisconsin primary, that those results represented a “turning point” in the Republican presidential campaign, he was wrong.

The race had already turned. It turned when Marco Rubio dropped out just before the Arizona primary. Rubio’s name remained on the Arizona ballot and he collected a sizable share of the early vote there. But since the senator from Florida has been fully off the ballot Trump has not won a primary contest; in fact, he hasn’t come close.

In the Utah caucus, which was the same night as the Arizona primary but, being a caucus, didn’t allow for early voting, Cruz took 69 percent of the vote. At the North Dakota state convention, Cruz’s slate of delegates covered 18 of the 23 winners; the other five were unbound. In the Colorado caucuses selecting delegates for two of the state’s congressional districts (the rest of the delegates will be selected at the state convention later this month), Cruz’ delegates carried out a sweep. And then in Wisconsin, an open primary in a purple-to-blue state defined by a mostly-white, mostly-blue collar demographic profile very similar to that of Michigan, where a month earlier Trump had walked away with an easy win, Cruz nearly topped 50 percent.

Yes, the New York primary is the next major contest (the Wyoming and Colorado conventions on the next two Saturdays can be expected to produce the majority of their delegates for Cruz, but they’ll do so largely out of the media’s notice), and yes, Trump will win New York handily. And yes, after New York there will be much focus on the five East Coast primaries in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and Maryland.

But going forward, Cruz will increasingly be the Republican standard-bearer rather than Trump. Here’s why that’s going to become apparent in the coming days.

1. As Margaret Thatcher said, first you win the argument. Then you win the election. Cruz is winning the argument. He won it convincingly in Wisconsin, a state that on its face should not have been his to win. Cruz beat Trump badly, 65-28, with voters who consider themselves “very conservative.” But he also beat him 47-36 among “somewhat conservatives” and was within 11 points of Trump among moderates. Cruz also tied Trump at 40 among independent voters in the Wisconsin GOP primary, which is telling — Trump has won convincingly among interlopers in open GOP primaries prior to Tuesday.

That’s evidence Cruz is beginning to attract votes from people outside his voting base. He certainly needs to do more of that, but we’re not in a general election yet and his competition isn’t Hillary Clinton yet — it’s Trump.

And while Cruz might need to hone his message, Trump is just losing the argument altogether. How can he win it? He’s spent the last month defending his campaign manager against criminal charges of assault, botching an answer on abortion which inflamed opposition from both the pro-life and pro-choice sides, offering opinions on NATO and Japanese and South Korean nukes far removed from the mainstream, promising to pay off the national debt in eight years when nobody believes that’s possible, tying himself to the National Enquirer’s sloppy smears against Cruz’s marital fidelity and threatening to sue state Republican parties for following rules his own campaign agreed to.

With all that taken into consideration, one candidate comes off as professional, dignified, intelligent, organized and professional and the other comes off as a boob. Cruz, almost by default, is the former.

2. Cruz isn’t going to the Establishment. The Establishment is coming to him. It’s clear they don’t want to, and this week is a last-gasp of the Stupid Party inside the Beltway as it attempts to gain some leverage over Cruz by planting stories about a “fresh face” parachuting in as the nominee in a brokered convention. But despite Cruz giving his Senate colleagues the finger when he was asked to apologize for having called majority leader Mitch McConnell a liar over the Export-Import Bank being reauthorized in violation of a promise made to the Senate GOP caucus, he’s attracting a small modicum of support there. He’s gaining more support in the House, where he always had some. He’s picking up support from several of his former presidential opponents — Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham.

Have deals been cut for that support? Perhaps. We know Trump cut a deal to get Ben Carson’s support, because Carson admitted it. Cruz will at some point need to soften his rhetoric in order to bring the middle aboard and he’ll want to give the remaining uncommitted Republicans in D.C. an opportunity to come aboard his bandwagon without abandoning his basic message of change to how Washington does business, but accusations that Cruz is a sell-out or some sort of Trojan Horse, as Trump declared in a petulant sore-loser statement after losing to him in Wisconsin, don’t really wash.

3. The East Coast isn’t as solid for Trump as Trump thinks. He’s going to win New York, but New York isn’t a winner-take-all state. Only 14 of the 95 delegates at stake are based on the statewide vote; the other 81 are allocated, three apiece, in the state’s 27 congressional districts. If Trump can top 50 percent in those districts and statewide he’ll capture the three (in districts where he manages a majority) or 14 (for the statewide vote). But if he’s short, the delegates will be apportioned on a proportional basis to candidates receiving 20 percent.

That might not help Cruz a lot. The most recent poll, by Monmouth University, of the Empire State showed him in third place at 17, and Trump over 50. But Trump’s share of the vote by both Monmouth and CBS News is only 52; if his current slide continues and/or he underperforms, he could well drop below 50 statewide and bleed delegates in those congressional districts. Cruz, meanwhile, is camping out in New York City; on Wednesday he was in the Bronx, because while there are heavily-Democrat congressional districts throughout some of the tougher parts of the Big Apple, the vote in those districts counts toward the same number of delegates as heavily-Republican areas. It may be paradoxical, but Iowa-style retail politics in New York could be the best way to pick up delegates in Trump’s home state.

Beyond New York, the Pennsylvania primary yields a vast majority of unbound delegates — winning the popular vote there doesn’t mean much. Connecticut and Rhode Island have few delegates and are proportional anyway. And what little polling there is in Maryland and Delaware indicates Cruz could well be competitive. Trump should rack up a nice victory in New Jersey; that might end up being his best state of those remaining.

4. If Trump can’t dominate California, this will go to a floor fight at the convention. Exactly what the all-important Golden State will do on June 7 is a question; there are polls showing it a dead heat and there are polls with Trump boasting a lead of seven or eight points. One imagines that momentum between now and June will tell the tale there, but a key factor in that momentum is campaign organization built for the long haul.

And that’s a problem for Trump. Media reports have begun seeping out telling of dissension and disorganization within his campaign; there is talk that campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s style is grating on volunteers and others, the small campaign staff is reportedly exhausted, the campaign sacked its head of data operations and now relies on a recent college graduate, there is little supervision of Trump himself which has played a part in many of the gaffes he’s made and his organization appears to be shrinking, rather than growing, as the campaign goes along. That has manifested itself in an incompetent delegate operation, an inability to stay on message and, in a telling bit of evidence, smaller crowds at his rallies.

Cruz, meanwhile, has on balance run one of the most impressive campaigns in recent American political history. Nobody — nobody — thought he would have come this far against that 17-candidate field with as many big names as it contained, and he’s not doing it on personal charm but rather hard work and organization. By California, the odds are that Cruz’s numbers will be up compared to Trump’s.

5. It’s going to be a Cruz convention, and anybody who thinks otherwise isn’t paying attention. Even Trump knows it; if he wasn’t becoming aware that Cruz has been “stealing” delegates Trump thought he’d won in primaries, he wouldn’t be howling about it. And the discussions this week, fueled in some measure by Trump’s post-Wisconsin statement about Cruz being a Trojan Horse to allow a floor fight to produce a parachuted-in Establishment nominee, are bunk. The Establishment doesn’t control the Republican convention like it does on the Democrat side with the multitudes of elected-official superdelegates; in Cleveland it will be the delegates who control the convention. And the GOP delegates, as we’ve seen, are coming up Cruz people. News reports of Cruz’s delegate operation bearing unforeseen fruit have popped up in Massachusetts, South Carolina, Arizona, Tennessee, Louisiana, Virginia and other states.

What does that mean? On the first ballot, not much. Delegates apportioned to Trump based on the primary vote will be going for Trump. But if he doesn’t get to 1,237 “on the field,” he’s not the nominee. At that point he didn’t earn it. He’ll have to compete for delegates on the floor of the convention. And when delegates pledged to other candidates like Marco Rubio or John Kasich, or even when some significant number of Trump’s delegates are actually Cruz supporters, the 2nd ballot could spell doom.

What about the possibility of a parachuted-in Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney? Don’t bet on it. At Five Thirty Eight, Nate Silver has an excellent piece explaining that it’s completely unlikely if not impossible to impose a nominee in Cleveland. A takeaway line from Silver:

But Republicans won’t be starting from scratch, and the “establishment” won’t pick the party’s nominee. The 2,472 delegates in Cleveland will. And most of them will be chosen at state or local party conventions a long way from Washington. Few will be household names, having quietly attended party gatherings in Fargo, North Dakota, or Cheyenne, Wyoming, for years with little remuneration or recognition. Although the proverbial Acela-riding insiders might dream of Ryan or Kasich, there are indications that the rank-and-file delegates are into Ted Cruz — and they’re the ones who will have votes in Cleveland.

There is, of course, the much-discussed Rule 40, which holds that to be placed in nomination a candidate must have won delegate majorities in eight states — which will function to limit the choices to Trump and Cruz. Given that the vast bulk of the delegates who will vote on any changes to that rule will be Trump and Cruz delegates, there won’t likely be any major changes to that rule.

The media is still giving Trump wall-to-wall coverage as though he’s the frontrunner. But he isn’t, really. The man holding the best cards in this contest is Cruz.

Scott McKay
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Scott McKay is a contributing editor at The American Spectator  and publisher of the Hayride, which offers news and commentary on Louisiana and national politics, and RVIVR.com, a national political news aggregation and opinion site. Additionally, he's the author of the new book The Revivalist Manifesto: How Patriots Can Win The Next American Era, available at Amazon.com. He’s also a writer of fiction — check out his three Tales of Ardenia novels Animus, Perdition and Retribution at Amazon. Scott's other project is The Speakeasy, a free-speech social and news app with benefits - check it out here.
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