Texas Sen. Ted Cruz shocked his supporters when he decided to withdraw from the Republican presidential race on Tuesday, after taking a political drubbing by businessman Donald Trump in Indiana.
Mr. Cruz had a stellar campaign team, which organized ground games effectively in states like Iowa and Wisconsin, had mastered the arcane state-delegate system — producing wins in Colorado and North Dakota, and by snatching away delegates in Louisiana and Minnesota.
So what happened in Indiana? A state, whose political base looked a lot like Wisconsin’s, where Mr. Cruz camped out during the Northeastern primaries to singularly focus his attention, and where his campaign pulled out all the stops in the final week to drive a media blitz?
It was his inability to both win over his key constituency and widen his political base. Mr. Cruz, couldn’t, quite simply, unite the Republican Party.
From the beginning, Mr. Cruz’s campaign set its sights on the evangelical voter. Not only would he win this demographic, but he’d also drive congregations of people — many whom hadn’t voted in years — to the polls with his social conservative message. He’d never be outflanked on the right, and above all, would stay true to conservative values.
Problems began to arise with this strategy in South Carolina, where, despite Mr. Trump’s floundering on biblical terminology and on issues like abortion, he won the evangelical vote with 33 percent to Mr. Cruz’s 27 percent. The trend repeated in Nevada and elsewhere in the South.
The 10 million evangelical voters who the Cruz campaign estimated didn’t come out in the 2000 election — and they were looking to attract in order to win — either stayed home or voted for Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump outpolled Mr. Cruz by more than 7 percentage points among evangelicals in all primaries prior to Indiana, according to aggregated exit poll data compiled by the Wall Street Journal.
Similarly, Mr. Cruz didn’t win his fair share of self-identified “conservative voters,” only grabbing those who said they were “very conservative ” — a smaller percentage of the voting electorate.
“Somewhat conservative,” voters weren’t interested in Mr. Cruz’s message and instead turned to Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump won this group of voters by 20 percentage points in Indiana, and among all previous contests by capturing 43 percent of their vote, compared to Mr. Cruz’s 22 percent, the Wall Street Journal calculated.
Instead of the swarm of new, motivated evangelical voters the Cruz campaign was relying on — a new demographic emerged — the white, blue-collar worker. This was a demographic Mr. Cruz’s team hadn’t anticipated and was one he consistently lost to Mr. Trump. The blue-collar vote wasn’t ideological, may have been turned off by Mr. Cruz’s emphasis on social issues and were motivated by economic messaging — something the Cruz campaign was light on.
There were other factors that foiled Mr. Cruz’s success.
In addition to the evangelical vote, Mr. Cruz’s team bet voters would be attracted to an “outsider” message — that they were fed up with Washington politics, or as Mr. Cruz called them, the “Washington cartel.”
Mr. Cruz was right — there was anger at the professional political class, and the American people wanted an outsider who would fight for them. The only problem was, Mr. Trump was more of an outsider. He co-opted that label.
Secondly, Mr. Cruz never had the full support of the Washington establishment. He had few endorsements from Capitol Hill, and the big donor money that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush could attract, Mr. Cruz could not. Even when Mr. Cruz was the last viable alternative standing against Mr. Trump, insiders couldn’t bring themselves to rally support behind Mr. Cruz.
Lastly, after “Super Tuesday” in March, the Cruz campaign desperately wanted a one-on-one race with Mr. Trump. That idea was foiled by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who after winning his home-state, stubbornly thought he had a path to the nomination, despite having no money and national campaign infrastructure.
By staying in the race, Mr. Kasich gave hope to more moderate conservatives, of which Mr. Cruz needed to consolidate. No, Mr. Kasich didn’t mathematically spoil Indiana’s results, but he did spoil Mr. Cruz’s media narrative starting on March 16. Who knows how the momentum may have shifted if Mr. Cruz did get that one-on-one matchup.