In the past few weeks, Ted Cruz has gone all out to win Indiana to stop frontrunner Donald Trump, but he may have misread the state. Trump leads him by double digits in the polls as voters make their will known on Tuesday. Why does Indiana matter and why did Cruz think it was his best shot?
The Hoosier State will bind 57 delegates on Tuesday: 30 delegates to the state-wide winner and 3 each to the winner in the state’s nine congressional districts. Even a small win in Indiana translates into a large delegate win, and of the remaining states only California would net more delegates. In order to stop Trump from reaching the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination, Cruz (or John Kasich) would have to win Indiana or win California big.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Indiana would be a great state for Cruz. The Hoosier State has the largest share of evangelical Protestants of any state yet to vote, at 31 percent (9 points higher than Wisconsin, Cruz’s great triumph last month). In the 2012 Republican primary, voters toppled Sen. Richard Lugar in favor of Tea Party challenger Richard Mourdock (who then lost the general election due to an off-color pro-life comment). Like Wisconsin, Indiana has a robust population of well-educated, high-income conservatives.
But those who know Indiana better have pegged it for Donald Trump. The state’s population originally hails from the South, and the state is rather poor compared to neighboring states. While Republican Party star Abraham Lincoln grew up there, his father opposed education. For these reasons, Craig Fehrman at FiveThirtyEight suggests that Lincoln’s father would have voted for Trump, and that Indiana is really a stronger state for The Donald than many would suppose.
One final measure also supports this: church attendance. While the Hoosier State may have high numbers of self-described evangelicals, that does not indicate their political leaning on the issue of a New York casino-owning philandering lying billionaire who never asked God for forgiveness, for some reason. Only regular church-attending “evangelicals” oppose Trump enough to support Cruz by large margins, and there don’t seem to be that many of them in Indiana (with apologies to my Hoosier brethren who do attend on a regular basis).
After this election, pollsters seriously need to get with the times and ask more penetrating religion questions than “Do you consider yourself an evangelical Protestant?”
Indeed, a recent Politico post explained why Cruz may have alienated some Indiana voters on social issues, by supporting the common-sense North Carolina bathroom bill which incited widespread hatred recently. These are not your faithful, churchgoing Christians, it would seem.
Next Page: The biggest problem with Cruz, and why he’ll fight on even if he loses Indiana big.
The biggest recent problem with Cruz, however, has been the “kiss of death” by the Republican Party’s “establishment.” After Lindsey “Choosing Trump or Cruz is like being shot or poisoned” Graham endorsed him in March, the Texas senator’s anti-establishment haranguing of the stick-in-the-mud Republican Party has lost some of its vigor.
In an outsider year, this message was hugely important, but when Cruz made a deal with John Kasich, tapped a running mate too soon, and allegedly made a Faustian bargain to win Wisconsin, he lost a good bunch of his momentum. Then again, Trump can also be considered the quintessential “establishment” candidate — but his past seems largely forgotten in a swirling movement of rage.
Nevertheless, obituaries for the Texas senator may prove premature. Despite his bad standing in the polls, Cruz could still win Indiana — FiveThirtyEight still gives him a 17 percent chance. Polling is unreliable in Indiana, even though Trump leads strongly there. If Cruz does win, that would flip the recent narrative of Trump victories and show that the #NeverTrump movement still has an appetite.
Even if Cruz loses big on Tuesday, he will still fight on, for many reasons. As Erick Erickson explained, it is still possible to keep The Donald from getting 1,237 delegates after tonight, although it is highly unlikely. Even more importantly, however, Cruz’s strong delegate game — which won him more influence in Virginia over the weekend — will still be important even if Trump becomes the nominee.
Cruz delegates can keep the party conservative and push for a strong party platform, even if Trump is guaranteed the nomination by party rules. Even more fascinating, it is possible that some delegates who are pledged to The Donald may be reconsidering their pledges. When the first ballot actually comes up, as many as half of his delegates may choose to break with tradition and abstain from the vote, or vote against him. As inadvisable as this is, there is little reason to think such a move impossible.
Tuesday will not be the end of the race for Cruz, if only because his delegates can make a difference in the party platform. A Trump blowout could virtually assure him the nomination, but even then he would not be the “presumptive nominee.” For that, he needs California.