“One of the most important conclusions coming out of the first two states is the only candidate that can beat Donald Trump is me.” - Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz has argued for months that he could stop Trump in a two-candidate race. The quote above is one of several statements in which Cruz has insisted that he's the only viable anti-Trump candidate, that conservative voters are desperate to unite behind him.
Cruz got what he asked for in Indiana, a traditionally conservative state. Although their “alliance” rapidly disintegrated, Kasisch has spent comparatively little time in Indiana – it's all about Cruz and Trump. The Texas senator, moreover, has dumped all his eggs in the Indiana basket. He's made his final stand, as it were, in the heart of the Midwest, a region he says is a natural support base for his brand of conservatism.
Cruz has even said openly what is at stake here. “This is a moment where the entire country is relying on Indiana to save us from going over this cliff,” he recently admitted. In other words, this is the last chance for conservatives to stop the Trump juggernaut. If Trump wins Indiana, he's on a glide path to a first-ballot nomination. Cruz has repeated this message religiously while campaigning in Indiana.
And yet nothing he has done appears to have worked. He tried prematurely nominating Carly Fiorina as his VP nominee, but that only illuminated his desperation. The Fiorina gamble did absolutely nothing to change the dynamics in Indiana or elsewhere. The latest polls show Cruz well behind Trump by an average of 10 points. Several polls suggest the gap is even larger than that. It's possible that Cruz pulls off an upset tonight, but it's highly unlikely.
No one on the Cruz campaign should be surprised by these results.
A new Gallup report reveals that Cruz's image among national conservatives has “nosedived” in the last two weeks: “Republicans' views of Cruz are now the worst in Gallup's history of tracking the Texas senator. His image among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents is at 39% favorable and 45% unfavorable, based on April 24-30 interviewing...The last few days have marked the first time we have seen Cruz's image underwater since we began daily tracking in July.”
As Cruz's numbers have tanked, Trump's numbers have climbed, particularly in the last two weeks. But if you look at the broader patterns, it's clear that Cruz and Trump have been moving in opposite directions for months. “The remarkable aspect of this trend line,” writes Frank Newport of Gallup, “is the degree to which since mid-April Trump's net favorable rating has moved steadily upward just as Cruz's net favorable rating has moved steadily downward. Cruz's image was consistently more positive than Trump's from July through the end of February; then the two closely tracked one another before the recent divergence.”
The conclusion is obvious: Despite pandering mercilessly for the last few years, Cruz has failed to win over the conservative wing of the party. They just don't like him. And the more they hear and see him, the more inclined they are to vote for Trump.
If Cruz loses Indiana as expected, he can no longer argue that Kasich is the problem or that conservatives need the race reduced to two choices. By now it's clear that Republican voters aren't torn between anti-Trump candidates: They're voting for Trump, not, as ABC's Rick Klein said, “against the other candidates.” And to the extent that conservatives are suspicious of Trump, it's equally clear that Cruz isn't a preferable alternative.