Tuesday is the crucial moment. For Ted Cruz to have any chance of stopping Donald Trump, he has to shock the punditocracy by winning all the delegates in Arizona and Utah.
In Utah, that means he must top 50 percent. Getting there in a three-man race is daunting, but with all those conservative Mormons who don’t swear the state should be Cruz country.
In Arizona, Cruz needs just one more vote than Trump. The media has assumed that because Trump wins anti-immigration voters, he’ll easily carry Arizona. But the latest polls there show Trump taking either 31 percent or 37 percent of the vote. Yes, he’s ahead of Cruz by double digits. But all evidence suggests that late deciders mostly break against Trump.
If Cruz can win Arizona and Utah before moving on to victory in Wisconsin — another winner-take-all state where voters like politicians who play nice — he’ll pick up 140 delegates, bringing Trump’s lead under 100, 673 to 558. Yes, Trump will then win the lion’s share of New York’s delegates, making the winner-take-all primaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware a pivotal factor in who emerges with a plurality of delegates at the convention. And then, of course, there is California, the biggest haul on the map, and the last state to vote. Recent polls show that Trump has yet to seal the deal there. (One survey has him at 38 percent, up 16 points on Cruz; another has him at 25 percent, up just five points.)
Head-to-head, Cruz believes he can win a plurality of delegates and take away Trump’s claim to the nomination. Exit polls in Michigan and Missouri suggest he is right. But Cruz needs to do more to bring voters to his side than presenting himself as the race’s anti-Trump. He needs a message focused on what his election will do for America, not conservatives: trusted to create jobs, trusted to restrain government, trusted to tame the Federal Reserve that is ruining your family’s paycheck and opportunities.
One question still remains, though: If beating Trump fair and square is an imperative, what is Kasich doing in this race?
Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project and can be followed on Twitter @MaggieGallaghe.