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The Alamo Just Moved to Indiana

| published April 28, 2016 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

Indiana has become the Alamo for the campaign of Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, the Texas Senator now leading the charge of the anti-Trump forces within the Republican Party.

Cruz, though he has amassed an impressive set of caucus and primary victories this year, and despite his hearty troupe of about 560 pledged delegates, has been unable to galvanize enough Republican voters to pull the levers for him over front-runner Donald Trump, now approaching 980 delegates. Cruz still hopes to deny Trump an outright, first-ballot win at the convention in Cleveland, but in order to do that he must win some states—and a lot of delegates.

Trump swept five primary states earlier this week, effectively catapulting his candidacy into a solid lead and allowing him to essentially declare the intra-party war over. The billionaire won big in a cluster of northeastern states, including Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maryland and Connecticut—other than Pennsylvania, once believed to be John Kasich territory, all states Trump had expected to win.

On Tuesday night Trump called himself “the presumptive nominee” and brushed aside talk of a prolonged delegate fight. In his calculus, he needs merely to win a couple of more states and he will be within striking distance of the prize. But neither Ted Cruz nor John Kasich got that memo, and they each say they are in this fight all the way to the convention.

In order to win on the first round of balloting in Cleveland in July, Trump must have 1,237 pledged delegates in his pocket. If he comes up short, under Republican National Committee rules, delegates will be released in stages to vote their conscience or wheel-and-deal with others, including Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich, or as yet undetermined candidates who could—in theory—spring from the hubbub on the floor in what is euphemistically called an “open convention,” the nice word for a convention in which things could get nasty.

Cruz has so far shown he has the upper hand when it comes to such organizational and procedural confrontations, much to the chagrin of Trump. The billionaire has called Cruz’s tactical maneuvers and delegate sleight-of-hand s tantamount to stealing votes, but Cruz defends the actions as just good, smart politics.

But Cruz’s finesse may have reached a brick wall in the Hoosier State. Trump leads in many polls there, but not by much. Some polls have shown Cruz within five or six points of Trump, meaning the Texas Senator could be poised for a surprise win—and a renewal of his faltering campaign to halt Trump. On the other hand, a Trump win in Indiana—which would propel all of Indiana’s delegates into Trump’s back pocket—could spell doom for not only Cruz and Kasich, but also for the larger Stop Trump movement.

Cruz attempted to steal much of Trump’s momentum on Wednesday by announcing that his running mate would be Carly Fiorina, the former HP CEO who last summer rose from single digits to challenge Trump’s lead as an alternative anti-Washington candidate. Fiorina has earlier in the month endorsed Cruz, and she had been on the short list of possible Cruz running mates for most of that time. Cruz’s timing is a gamble, of course, one meant to steal some of Trump’s thunder and keep the media looking at Cruz as the only viable anti-Trump.

For Cruz and Kasich, the only path to the nomination resides in a brokered convention. Among other things, this means that they must somehow deny Trump the ability to keep harvesting delegates. And that also means that the two non-Trumps must fight for the loyalty of every delegate, state-by-state, county-by-county. The two remaining challengers entered into a fragile pact last week, an arrangement by which each would steer clear of the other’s presumed fertile ground. Under this arrangement, Kasich would stay out of Indiana, leaving the state for Cruz to campaign unchallenged and ceding the airwaves to his television and radio ads. In turn, Cruz will stay out of states deemed favorable to Kasich. The result, if all goes well, would be to starve Trump of additional delegates.

Sounds reasonable on paper and on the erasable boards, but it’s a plan which plenty of strategists say could have worked if it had been implemented six or eight weeks earlier. Now, some experts say, it just too little, too late. The other problem for both Kasich and Cruz: as Trump has been gleefully pointing out since before Iowa—not everyone is in agreement with the anti-Trump movement, and, in fact, Trump turns out frequently to be many Republican voters’ second choice. Jeb Bush’s withdrawal after South Carolina and ahead of Florida did little to nudge former Bush followers toward Marco Rubio in the Sunshine State, to name one example. Likewise, Rubio’s suspension of his campaign after his debacle in Florida produced little in the way of momentum for Cruz or for Kasich.

Such has been the math conundrum for the candidates all year, starting when there were 17 active candidates. The exit of one does not guarantee that his or her followers will move reliably toward one of the anti-Trumps. The arithmetic speaks to the deep anti-establishment hostility now commanding the narrative of the GOP, and it also speaks to Trump’s continual success despite a host of adversaries and millions of dollars spent by groups antithetical to Trump himself. Despite being a New Yorker, Trump in effect has grabbed the home field advantage in Indiana by talking to the fears and anxieties of Hoosiers frustrated by a massive loss of industrial and manufacturing jobs to places like Mexico and China.

Cruz—who has won several Midwestern States previously—now seems stalled after his five-pronged loss to Trump in the Northeast this week, and fellow Midwesterner Kasich has been unable to generate enough spark to start a fire in Indiana.

Indeed, in Indiana, many voters who had planned to support Kasich—now notably absent in order to boost Cruz’s chances there—are in fact now planning to join the revolt and pull the lever for Trump instead. The pattern seems so familiar that one wonders how the other candidates did not devise a better, more proactive strategy months ago.

Worse for both Cruz and Kasich, some Hoosier state GOP voters at the grass roots level feel betrayed by the Cruz-Kasich ploy, and see it as a form of dirty dealing. According to a Bloomberg report, Indiana Republican officials now note that some former Kasich supporters are now asking for yard signs and buttons to support Trump instead, ignoring Cruz and rejecting altogether the tenets of the anti-Trump pact.

Cruz and Fiorina—riding the energy created from the surprise announcement that they are now running-mates—are barnstorming The Hoosier State, hoping to close the polling gap by next week. Some political observers suggest that if Trump wins Indiana, it may truly spell the end for the anti-Trump movement, though it is not clear that Trump can win outright in Cleveland on the first ballot. Either way, expect fireworks between now and the convention.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Ryan Says He's Not Running, But Candidates Share His Vision; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 27, 2016.

Delegate Math: It Gets Complicated; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 11, 2016.