Stafford, Texas — Welcome to Cruz Country. This is where the Texas senator wanted to spend what he called the “single most important day in the Republican primary season.” Ted Cruz doesn’t play the expectations game. March 1, he told reporters Tuesday morning, was “the day we’ve been waiting for for a year.”
It didn’t shake out exactly how Cruz and his inner circle had envisioned. Yes, he won his home state of Texas, sweeping all of its 36 congressional districts and all but six of its 254 counties, he won Oklahoma, and, in the wee hours of the morning, he narrowly defeated Trump in the Alaska caucuses. But for a candidate who’d hoped to coast to the nomination on a wave of momentum from Southern Evangelicals, it was a disappointing finish, relatively speaking. Nonetheless, as the specter of Donald Trump haunts the Republican party like Communism over Europe, many have adjusted their expectations, and on Tuesday night, things looked pretty good to Cruz, his supporters, and a party establishment desperate for a force capable of tossing Donald Trump on the ash heap of history.
Cruz rang in his victory in the Texas primary at the Redneck Country Club, a live-music venue outside Houston made up like a yuppie campsite, covered in Astroturf, electric campfires, and picnic tables worn down just so.
The Republican field remains fractured, and none of Cruz’s challengers appear to be on the verge of extinction.
“Tonight, this campaign enters a new phase,” Cruz told his supporters. It was more wish than fact. He made the case for his wish, for the field to winnow to two candidates: “Tonight was another decision and the voters have spoken,” he said. He asked his non-Trump challengers to “prayerfully consider” uniting behind him for the good of the GOP.
It’ll be a Sisyphean struggle. Neither Marco Rubio nor John Kasich are likely to leave the race before their home states, Florida and Ohio, vote on March 15. If they win on their home turf, they are likely to stay the course. If they lose, Trump is the likely beneficiary, and he would become the de facto nominee. The only other alternative seems to be a contested convention.
In the 48 hours before polls closed here on Tuesday, Cruz surrounded himself with his most fervent supporters. Are there any others? His events began with the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States, the Pledge of Allegiance to the Texas flag, and prayers to lift up Cruz and his family. At a rally at Houston Baptist University on the eve of Super Tuesday, the crowd of approximately 1,500 greeted a pastor like a rock star. One of Cruz’s warm-up acts reminded the crowd that Cruz had memorized the Constitution as a high-school student; former Texas governor Rick Perry told them that “Ted Cruz operates with two checklists in his life: the Bible and the United States Constitution.”
#share#And yet, if this primary has made one thing clear, it’s that these sorts of conservative purists constitute a minority of the Republican party. It may prove to be the singular and fatal miscalculation of Cruz’s campaign. But Cruz and his advisers insist they remain the only option to defeat Trump. “If we get out of the race, he’s the nominee, he wins the next 46 states because he gets all of our votes,” says one Cruz adviser. “If Rubio gets out, we get almost all of his votes. They’re not gonna go to Trump.”
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Now Cruz and his advisers are looking to March 15 as the date on which they will be able to face off with the real enemy, Donald Trump, once and for all. “On the night of March 15 there will be a final two-person race between a conservative, that’ll be us, and then somebody else,” says a top Cruz adviser. “And I will profess, I believed that somebody else would’ve been Jeb Bush. Maybe I thought it would’ve been Scott Walker.”
Without Rubio’s departure from the race, even Cruz’s advisers are bearish on his survival.
Their assumptions upended, the Cruz campaign has gone back to the drawing board. Without Rubio’s departure, even Cruz’s advisers are bearish on his survival. Eight states vote before the March 15 winner-take-all primaries, and the senior Cruz aide says only, “We will do well and build our on momentum.” On the 15th, Cruz will play to win in Missouri, Illinois, and North Carolina, and, his team says, he will mount a real effort in Florida. But without a win in the Sunshine State or in Ohio, the prospect of a two-man race with Trump is grim.
#related#Which is why the Cruz campaign says that they have a shot in Ohio. They point to the fact that in 2012, Rick Santorum spent only $80,000 there and lost to Mitt Romney, who poured $5 million into the state, by just two points. Then again, the state’s popular governor wasn’t running four years ago either.
A fractured Republican party is now in agreement that so long as Cruz and Rubio remain in the race, Donald Trump is the de facto nominee. Like Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, neither can live while the other survives. The final showdown may take place at the Republican convention in Cleveland.