Cruz's Organization, Endorsements No Match for Trump

Cruz's Organization, Endorsements No Match for Trump
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Ted Cruz was always an unlikely knight in shining armor for the Republican Party establishment, and in Indiana he and the GOP found that discipline, endorsements, and solid grassroots organization were no match for the human juggernaut that has been the story of the 2016 presidential election since the moment he announced his unorthodox candidacy last June.

One of the most disliked senators in recent memory, Cruz had set himself up to run in what was dubbed the “angry lane,” but he could not catch Donald Trump, winning only nine primaries and caucuses – to 28 for Trump. Cruz started on a high note, winning the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, and leaves the race as a solid second in the delegate count, outlasting most of his rivals, while managing to attract a diverse of range of Republicans – from Mitt Romney to Sen. Lindsey Graham – to back his efforts to stop Trump.

But it wasn’t enough.

The Texas senator suffered a brutal loss in Indiana, a state where he made his last stand. 

“We left it all on the field,” Cruz told supporters there after the results came in. “But the voters chose another path. And so, with a heavy heart, but with boundless optimism for the long-term future of our nation, we are suspending our campaign.” 

John Kasich remains in the race, and anti-Trump groups have pledged to continue the fight, however impossible it appears to be. But without Cruz, the effort to prevent Trump from winning the majority of delegates was left without a vessel. 

And so, soon after Cruz announced he would be leaving the race, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted that Trump will be the presumptive nominee and urged the party to unite around him to defeat likely Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Cruz hoped the Hoosier State’s conservative bent and evangelical base of support would help him reset the trajectory of the race after losing a half dozen primaries in recent weeks. Cruz pulled out all the stops there: he successfully encouraged Kasich to stop campaigning in Indiana, named Carly Fiorina as his running mate to regain a news cycle after tough losses to Trump in the Northeast, and secured the endorsement, however lukewarm, of Gov. Mike Pence.

The moves signaled desperation ahead of the Indiana primary, and several polls indicated a Trump victory in the state. Even as he was leading the polls and the writing on the wall for Cruz and others appeared imminent, Trump poured salt on the wound to push his rival out of the race more quickly. 

On Tuesday, Trump raised a nonsense report connecting Cruz’s father to John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. It irked Cruz to an unprecedented degree, and the senator launched into his fiercest attack yet on Trump, calling him a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral” and a “serial philanderer,” among other things.

The attacks drove the news cycle as voters in Indiana went to the polls, and Trump reveled in rattling the normally composed Cruz. The remarks also gave a preview of the difficult night ahead for the Cruz campaign.

The decision to drop out as quickly as he did after the Indiana results surprised some who envisioned Cruz fighting to the death. Strategists advising the anti-Trump effort believed Cruz would stay on through California, where the campaign had been organized for nearly a year. The senator had also been eyeing Nebraska to gain some delegates.

But the Indiana loss proved decisive, and Cruz’s case for continuing on after a seventh straight loss would have been difficult to make. In recent days, Cruz has said he would continue on as long as there was a viable path for him. Indiana clearly closed the road.

Cruz had emerged as the vehicle for efforts to keep Trump from the nomination after he defeated the front-runner in several states and demonstrated superior organizing skills that allowed him to pick up delegates at certain state conventions and allocation gatherings.

But he never truly coalesced the anti-Trump section of the party around his candidacy. Endorsements from the likes of Graham, Romney and other GOP figures were notably tepid. Cruz made a career of collecting enemies in the Senate, establishing himself as a conservative, anti-establishment firebrand. Republicans who didn’t like Trump didn’t much care for Cruz either. That made it difficult for his colleagues to support him, even if it meant ceding the nomination to Trump, and even the general election to Clinton. Still, some had come to the conclusion that at least Cruz was a Republican and a conservative, which in their eyes made him more acceptable than Trump.

Even Pence’s endorsement of Cruz on the Friday before the Indiana Primary was driven more by concern for the governor’s own re-election bid than it was by enthusiasm for Cruz. Pence, locked in a tight race of his own, received backlash from conservative activists for not weighing in against Trump. The conservative governor also made clear, however, that he would support the eventual party nominee. 

Cruz’s hits on Trump Tuesday afternoon raised serious doubts about whether he could ultimately support him as the party’s nominee, underscoring the challenges ahead for uniting the party.

Cruz’s attacks on the last day of his campaign were also seen as disingenuous. The senator had spent 2015 drafting behind Trump, praising his candidacy and declining to go after him, believing he would inherit his supporters once he left the race. But that moment never came.

Instead, Cruz ultimately found himself in a position where he was mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright, and his entire campaign became focused on defeating Trump. That only seemed to fuel Trump’s fire and lend credence to Trump’s message that the political system is rigged by calculating politicians aiming to prevent him from becoming the nominee.

In leaving the race, Cruz gave no clear indications about his next moves. But his departure at this stage, strategists believe, leaves him well positioned to run again in the near future.

“Sen. Ted Cruz proved himself to be the patriot that his supporters have always believed him to be, and is stepping aside in favor of party unity and the future of the nation,” said Tea Party founder and conservative activist Mark Meckler. "I look forward to seeing the face-off between Hillary Clinton (provided she's not indicted) and Donald Trump.”

Some Republicans who oppose the now presumptive nominee say the Stop Trump effort could morph into a Stop Hillary or Never Hillary movement and hope to rally the party against her.

“There are those who are Never Trump and there are those who are Stop Trump, because he's not perceived as being the best candidate for us to win the White House,” says Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio secretary of state and an adviser to the anti-Trump group, Our Principles PAC. “The difference is, I don't believe in never saying never. But I will never vote and never advocate for voting for Hillary Clinton.”

Some conservative activists, however, are insistent on holding their ground against Trump. “It's "Never Trump" as in come hell or high water we will never vote for Trump,” tweeted Erick Erickson.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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