Ted Cruz is in trouble. He didn't have the worst night of the four remaining GOP presidential candidates — that honor belongs to Marco Rubio, who got walloped by front-runner Donald Trump in Rubio's home state, Florida — but he didn't do anything to derail Trump's anger-powered locomotive of a campaign. Cruz didn't win any of the five states up for grabs Tuesday, despite favorable conditions.
Cruz decided to put much of his campaign's resources on the line in Florida over the past two weeks in an effort to both buoy his chances in the winner-take-all Sunshine State and to try to kill off Rubio's campaign. While Cruz's latter goal has been accomplished, thanks in no small measure to Trump's runaway victory, Cruz did not even get close to winning the state himself, blowing millions of dollars on a primary in which he did not win a single delegate.
Rebecca Deen, the chair of the University of Texas at Arlington, says that, although Trump is still the overwhelming favorite, Cruz did accomplish something in helping force Rubio out of the race.
"The faster it goes to a two-person race for Cruz, the better," she says, laughing at the fact that Cruz, somehow, has become the most viable alternative to Trump despite the fact that he is hated with near unanimity by his own party.
Ohio Governor John Kasich managed to hang on and win his home state, positioning himself to remain in the campaign alongside Trump and Cruz. Kasich will look to fortify himself throughout the spring with delegates from his home region, the Midwest, and from Democratic areas hostile to Trump and Cruz's extreme rhetoric and ideas. He can't win a majority before the GOP national convention in July, but, with Cruz's help, he could stop Trump from doing so. Unlike Cruz, however, Kasich actually has a chance in a floor fight.
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Cruz's campaign will likely be relegated to the dustbin of history because the very voters for whom he seemed to be tailor-made, white, often rural evangelicals, sided with a wealthy real estate baron from New York who referred to a book of the Bible earlier this year as "two Corinthians." Cruz did well with that cohort to be sure, riding them to wins in Iowa and Texas, but he was unable to get them in the stranglehold he was expected to administer as the primaries began. Trump, Deen says, took advantage of a perfect storm to become the overwhelming favorite to take on Hillary Clinton — who essentially locked up the Democratic nomination with a big night of her own — in November.
"You had somebody who, not just didn't play by the playbook, but, it's as if he just landed from another planet and doesn't acknowledge that the playbook exists. That's what Trump has done this whole cycle, and the other candidates never really figured out how to respond to him," she says.
What Cruz has to do now to give his long-shot campaign even a puncher's chance, according to Deen, is fight for delegates in the spaces that the Trump campaign — which isn't great at the details — might overlook, like caucuses and congressional districts that award states' proportionally allocated delegates.
No matter what Cruz does, though, Deen made clear, Trump is still the overwhelming favorite.