Thoughts on the dramatic 13-point victory racked up by Ted Cruz in last night’s Wisconsin primary:
1) For the first time in a primary, exit polls showeed Cruz clearly won voters who considered themselves “somewhat conservative.” That is a sign he can expand his coalition from a hard-right base. He also performed adequately with Republican moderates, who made up a quarter of the electorate. Trump normally carries moderates easily, but last night he won only 40% of their votes, with Cruz getting 29% and John Kasich 28%.
2) John Kasich’s voters proved themselves to be sympathetic to the argument that only Cruz could stop Trump in the state. The average of the polls leading into last night’s primary gave Kasich 21% of the vote. He wound up winning only 15%, with the vast majority of defectors going to Cruz. Kasich could prove useful to Cruz in the critical New York primary in two weeks if he his presence on the ballot pulls Trump down below the 50% level he needs to win all delegates in a congressional district.
3) Trump’s signature issues didn’t play all that well in Wisconsin. Only 6% of voters considered immigration their most important issue, and among the half of Republicans who thought trade cost American jobs The Donald only won over Cruz by 43% to 42%.
4) Among the 35% of GOP voters who thought the most important issue was whether a particular candidate shared their values, Trump was crushed. He lost that category to Cruz by 66% to 11%. For all of Trump’s showmanship he remains an awkward fit for even the current populist mood in the Republican party.
5) Trump signaled yesterday he will try to establish more credibility on policy with a series of speeches on major issues – the kind of thing a frontrunner would have normally done months ago. Meanwhile, Cruz will try to leverage his Wisconsin victory with an argument that it’s not possible for an Old Trump to learn New Presidential Tricks. New York’s primary will mark an interesting battleground in those two approaches.