On the surface, Ted Cruz would appear to have had a very good last couple of weeks.
Following up on his resounding victory in the Wisconsin primary on April 5, Cruz dominated the state conventions in Colorado and Wyoming, netting 57 out of a possible 66 delegates from the two states. More importantly for Cruz, however, in denying Donald Trump those delegates, he made the front runner’s path to the outright nomination that much more difficult, increasing the possibility of a contested convention in July. And if Trump were unable to win on the first ballot, Cruz’s chances of victory would increase dramatically, as he has quietly outmaneuvered Trump in delegate selection processes for states ranging from Georgia and South Carolina to Virginia and Indiana.
However, while Cruz’s slick campaign moves have helped him close the gap on Trump, they may end up backfiring on him in an unfortunate — though not unsurprising — way.
In response to Cruz’s strategy, Trump has made a slight effort to bolster his own campaign’s delegate hunting prowess — most notably hiring veteran strategist Paul Manafort at the end of March. However, over the last few weeks, Trump has by-and-large ceded the delegate hunting to Cruz, opting instead for a different strategy: using Cruz’s own victories against him by painting him as a Republican insider circumventing the democratic process.
Seizing on the anti-establishment fervor which is feeding his campaign, Trump has repeatedly attacked Cruz for joining the GOP elite’s alleged attempt to disenfranchise voters and reassert control over the nomination process. For example, following Cruz’s win in Colorado, Trump penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal accusing Cruz of a “flagrant abuse of the rules” and taking advantage of a “rigged” system.
And again, following Cruz’s Wyoming victory this past weekend, Trump resorted back to the same messaging:
It’s a rigged system. I see it. You know, I’m a smart guy, a business guy, and nobody ever really understood the system until I brought it out, and it’s a rigged system. When you look at Wyoming, when you look at Colorado, the bosses are picking the people. …
Although many conservative pundits have argued that Trump’s rhetoric does not match reality — that delegate selection rules have been set from the beginning and that Cruz won those contests fair and square — this is missing the point. Trump’s message, while perhaps disingenuous, appears to be resonating.
As Maggie alluded to yesterday, Trump’s poll numbers are surging across the board, a surge that has coincided with his new attacks on Cruz. The Donald seems poised to win a vast majority of the delegates in New York today, and he holds significant leads in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and California.
While Trump’s odds of winning a contested convention are not considered high, it will all be moot if he can reach the magic number of 1,237 before July. And if he does, Cruz may look back on his Colorado and Wyoming victories, not as a campaign high-water mark, but rather as the beginning of the end for his 2016 hopes.
Paul Dupont is the managing editor for ThePulse2016.com.