By just about every metric, Ted Cruz is losing the race for the Republican nomination.
After a crushing third place finish in New York Tuesday night, Cruz can no longer to win the Republican nomination without a chaotic, contested convention in Cleveland.
“At this point nobody is getting 1,237,” Cruz told CBS Radio in Philadelphia, Wednesday.
Cruz needs 678 delegates to clinch the elusive 1,237 delegates before July; only 674 delegates remain up for grabs, according to the Associated Press.
“Senator Cruz is just about mathematically eliminated,” Trump said Tuesday night.
He’s got a point.
In national polls, Trump is leading.
In total votes cast, Trump is leading.
In an arena where Cruz should have a decisive advantage, the U.S. Senate, he is barely leading Trump. Trump has one Senate endorsement in Jeff Sessions (R-AL). And Cruz– who has made extensive outreach efforts to mend fences with colleagues–only has three.
If Cruz is going to deny the top vote-getter and delegate count leader at the convention and risk alienating the thousands of Republican primary voters who wanted Trump in the first place, he better have a good rationale.
Right now, it’s hard to see how he makes that case effectively.
While Cruz fares better than Trump against potential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head matchup, polls still show he would lose to her in November. Ohio Gov. John Kasich – as he often reminds voters on the trail – is the only candidate left in the race who consistently shows he can beat Clinton in the general.
And, as Republican Party officials fear Trump could be a drag on down-ballot races, many don’t see Cruz doing any better. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics wrote earlier this month when they moved several Senate races in the Dems direction that “assuming the GOP nominee for the White House is either Trump or Ted Cruz, we think the Democrats will fare reasonably well down-ballot.”
Even if Cruz made it to a contested convention, his path to a victory there would be tenuous.
“There is no way for the establishment to take the nomination from Trump if he is even close to the 1,237 delegates he needs,” Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University told the Houston Chronicle. Cruz has long mocked Kasich’s viability, but in a contested convention, the outcome may not be that different for Cruz.
In order to steal the nomination from Trump at a convention in Cleveland, Cruz is going to need to explain why he actually deserves the nomination. He can argue that Trump is a disaster for the party. He can argue Trump alienates women. He can keep painting Trump as a phony, shyster conservative who has given money to Democrats. It’s not clear why those arguments, which did not worked for other Republican candidates trying to defeat Trump in primary contests, would work in the more difficult task for wresting delegates from him.
Cruz also must overcome a contradiction inherent to his campaign. While Cruz has tried to make the case that he is an outsider — the only candidate in the race who can take on the “Washington cartel” and repair the country — his argument at the convention will be that he is the true Republican and Trump the callow insurgent.
“I am an outsider, Bernie Sanders is an outsider. Both with the same diagnosis, but both with very different paths to healing,” Cruz said Tuesday night as he addressed an audience in Pennsylvania.
Adding to the contradiction for Cruz is that he is the candidate manipulating the rules of the party to his advantage in the delegate selection process. Playing the part of political insurgent while simultaneously using arcane and tedious state delegate allocation rules to collect delegates in states where Trump won the popular vote may undermine his claim to outsider status. A Politico story this week detailed how Cruz’s campaign was going so far as “logging detailed profiles and loyalty scores of each delegate, honing pitches to convince wavering allies to commit and deploying surrogates to stiffen the spines of wobbly backers.”
That sounds like old-fashioned, political arm twisting.
Trump’s certainly struggled in recent weeks, but shutting the door on Cruz in New York means Cruz’s path to victory–straight through a contested convention– is wobbly at best.