Ted Cruz was not going to win the 2016 Republican primary.
Many people had been saying as much in the days leading up to Tuesday’s Indiana primary, but when Cruz took the stage last night in Indianapolis, the crowd seemed to be in shock at the news that had ricocheted around the internet only moments before: Cruz was dropping out, leaving the path to the nomination clear for Donald Trump.
It seemed an ill-fitting end to the campaign of a man who has made his career on last stands. Cruz shot to national fame when he stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate for more than 20 hours, railed against Obamacare and lingered over the lines of “Green Eggs and Ham.” He exited the 2016 race at a time when national polling averages showed him at 27 percent of the vote, compared to Trump’s 45 percent, and yet he had become the nexus of the #NeverTrump movement.
Only the day before, in an exchange with an angry Trump supporter in Indiana, Cruz had seemed defiant, interrogating the man’s belief in Trump. In reply, the Trump acolyte smirked and said, “Do the math. You know, you asked Kasich to drop out; now it’s your turn.” The anonymous Trumpian turned out to be prescient.
Cruz entered the race on March 23, 2015, at Liberty University, a venue that signaled the tenor and texture his campaign would take on. The Texas senator and former debater was set on rallying evangelical Christian voters, and his rhetorical stylings — filled with meaningful pauses and grand turns of phrase — felt at times not unlike a preacher’s.
Cruz polled in the single digits when he entered the race — 5 percent in a February 2015 Quinnipiac poll in Iowa that showed Scott Walker leading the Republican field with 25 percent of the vote. But by the time the Iowa caucuses rolled around, Cruz was polling at about 24 percent in the state. He won the Feb. 1 contest with more than 27 percent of the vote, beating the polls that had showed Trump winning. Cruz’s traditional field operation — as opposed to the more meager on-the-ground showings of Trump and Marco Rubio — was credited for turning out Iowa’s famous activist voters.
But it was a hard struggle for Cruz in the aftermath of Iowa. Trump won New Hampshire — where Cruz came in third, behind John Kasich — and South Carolina, a state filled with exactly the kind of evangelicals whom Cruz had hoped to win. That was — or should have been — a clear sign that Cruz’s appeal was limited. The slew of Super Tuesday primaries on March 1 did nothing to stop the Trump momentum: The businessman won seven states to Cruz’s three.
For a time in the late fall and early winter, Cruz didn’t do much to attack Trump overtly, sticking to his own script of wanting to “carpet-bomb” the Islamic State group and stand up for religious liberties. He let other candidates — including Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and Lindsey Graham — talk about the broader damage Trump could do to the Republican Party.
The Cruz-Trump truce ended in late February, around the time of the South Carolina and Nevada contests. When Rubio dropped out of the race after his March 15 loss in Florida, the full force of Trump’s malice turned against Cruz, and the moniker “Lyin’ Ted” entered the American vernacular, swiftly replacing “Little Marco.” It was all that Cruz could do to fend off the attacks, even with his deep pockets and superior organizing. In the end, Cruz couldn’t expand his support beyond self-identified “very conservative” Republican voters.
|SUPPORT AMONG SELF-IDENTIFIED MODERATE OR LIBERAL GOP VOTERS|
|STATE||TED CRUZ||JOHN KASICH + MARCO RUBIO||DIFFERENCE|
The final weeks of Cruz’s campaign became about methodically collecting loyal delegates, insurance in the case of a contested convention in Cleveland, which, for a time, seemed possible, particularly after Cruz’s strong showing in Wisconsin, perhaps the high point of his campaign. But Trump’s dominance in New York on April 19 and in other Northeast primaries a week later dampened second-ballot delegate talk. The vote in Indiana ended it for good.
In the final week of his campaign, Cruz struck a deal with Kasich to divide and conquer the remaining states — a gambit that didn’t seem to hold much water with voters — and appointed a running mate in Fiorina, an unprecedented move for a candidate in his position. He still went into Indiana trailing Trump by 10 percentage points in the polls and ultimately lost the state by about 16 points.
So what happens to Cruz voters now? According to recent polling by Morning Consult, 62 percent of his supporters said they would vote for Trump in a general election against Hillary Clinton, while 13 percent said they would back Clinton and 25 percent weren’t sure what they’d do.
What more can be said? Here lies the Ted Cruz 2016 presidential campaign; he tried every trick in the book, and it still wasn’t enough.