Politics & Policy

What Trump’s Big Victory and Cruz’s Big Announcement Mean

(Win McNamee/Getty)

First and foremost, as I predicted last week, Trump had a great night on Tuesday. From a delegate perspective, his six “blue wall” Democratic state wins were not a game-changer. He was expected to take almost all of the delegates and he did. But that should not discount his accomplishment. His winning percentages exceeded already high expectations and, as a result, Trump took perhaps 15 to 20 delegates that might have been expected to go to another candidate going in.

More importantly, he did well among unbound delegates in Pennsylvania. There’s been a lot of speculation and analysis regarding these delegates but, having looked in detail at the delegate selections, I think it is safe to assume that barring a substantial change in the status of the race, Trump will likely wind up with between two-fifths and two-thirds of the unbound delegates in Pennsylvania. While not a perfect run, it’s a significant organizational accomplishment for a candidate that has badly struggled in organization.

Trump also won by outperforming his polling. In the races leading up the Acela primaries, Trump had outperformed his polling by 0.2 percent. In the Acela region, he outperformed it by a dramatic 9 percent. However, there are some indications this northeastern over performance may be a one-off. Analyzing the data from Michael McDonald’s United States Election’s Project, we see that five of six Trump-dominated primaries in the last two weeks have had the lowest percentage of turnout of the voting-age population in any of the Republican primaries to date (the outlier is Louisiana). None exceeded 10 percent. The sixth, Pennsylvania, had considerably better turnout, but still ranked at just 16 percent, also in the lower-tier of GOP primary turnout. For Cruz to win in Indiana, he obviously wants turnout much more like the 26 percent of total eligible voters that came out and gave him a victory in Wisconsin.

RELATED: Cruz Stakes It All on Carly Ahead of Final Stretch 

Cruz (whom I have endorsed) had effectively pulled out of the northeastern states a while ago, seeing that he had little chance of winning delegates there, and has focused his resources on Indiana. A decisive Trump win in the Hoosier State would leave Cruz needing to win all the remaining states he is expected to win (Nebraska, Montana, South Dakota, and probably Washington) while also rolling up a substantial margin in California to realistically hope to enter and win a contested convention. That’s not impossible, but it would definitely be the electoral equivalent of drawing an inside straight. If Cruz wins Indiana, and performs well thereafter, a contested convention remains by far the most likely scenario, despite the aura of inevitability with which the media is now enshrouding Trump.

Cruz’s need to alter the terms of the public debate explains a great deal about his announcement of Carly Fiorina as his VP pick, the possibility of which had been leaked earlier in the week. Others have already offered their thoughts, in terms of her suitability for the role and what she will bring to the ticket. So let me focus, as a Californian, on a few of the purely short-term political aspects of the choice, particularly as regards the Golden State.

#share#First, the announcement gives Cruz a badly needed narrative reset after his worst stretch in the campaign. And it gives Fiorina more power as a surrogate over the next few days in Indiana. It will help him with women voters, which will be a key constituency given Trump’s long history of intemperate gender-related comments.

But the bigger prize in the selection of Fiorina is in California, and that is where the pick has the potential to truly pay dividends for Cruz. While Fiorina’s tenure as CEO of Hewlett Packard was controversial, she was the first woman to be the CEO of a Fortune 20 company and was Fortune’s most powerful woman in business for five years running. She is very well-known and well-liked among California Republicans (and only registered Republicans will participate in the GOP primary). Though Fiorina was beaten by Barbara Boxer in the 2010 Senate race, she outperformed GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, another valley celebrity CEO who spent eight times what Fiorina did. In general, California Republicans were impressed with her campaign, which showed the limits of the GOP brand in California more than it did Fiorina’s limitations.

RELATED: What Fiorna Brings to Cruz’s Ticket

The Cruz campaign has been organized in California for a long time, and it has deep, though mostly quiet, support among the state’s Republican leadership (something that was not at all true in the northeastern states). Cruz’s national spokesman and California campaign chair, Ron Nehring, was the GOP’s 2014 nominee for lieutenant governor and before that spent several years as California state GOP chair. He has deep experience in — and knowledge of – the state party. Three other former state GOP chairs have also endorsed Cruz.

The Cruz campaign has been active and visible here (far more so than Trump or Kasich) but the candidate’s visits have been focused on the GOP strongholds in Southern California. He has been notably less visible in Northern California and the Bay Area.

If Cruz wins Indiana, and performs well thereafter, a contested convention remains by far the most likely scenario.

The upcoming California primary, with its trove of 172 delegates is, more than almost any other state, truly a collection of winner-take-all smaller primaries. Just 13 of the delegates go to the statewide winner. The remaining 159 go to district winners from each of California’s 53 congressional districts on a winner-take-all basis. Cruz is already well-positioned in the heavily Republican districts in Southern California, but Fiorina will help him tremendously in the ten districts in the Bay Area, which have relatively few GOP voters but carry 30 delegates between them. Her Bay Area fundraising was comparable to Cruz’s even though she raised less than one-sixth as much money overall for her bid. Cruz’s pick of Fiorina, and the lift it may give him in these districts, gives him at least a puncher’s chance of getting an enormous delegate victory in California, even if he wins the state popular vote only modestly. And depending on the outcome of Indiana, Cruz may need a huge delegate victory here if he wants to go to a convention.

#related#Not only will Cruz gain long-term statewide credibility with Fiorina, his pick will pay more immediate dividends this weekend at the California state GOP convention at which Cruz is scheduled to give the lunch keynote on Saturday while Fiorina closes the day with the evening keynote. Cruz will now be able to deploy two powerful Californian female surrogates working the state for him (his wife Heidi grew up in San Luis Obispo, on the central coast). When combined with his experienced California team, he will have a formidable organization in a state that, due to its rules, perhaps rewards organization better than any other on the calendar.

Either way, Cruz’s selection of Fiorina would seem to ensure that he will fight all the way to California and the end of the Republican primary calendar, regardless of the outcome in the next several states. For California Republicans long used to being ignored by the national GOP, it is just one more reminder that we will finally be getting our place in the sun.