For once, Ted Cruz and the Washington professional class he claims to loathe agree on something: The Texas Senator’s win in Wisconsin represents a watershed moment in the Republican presidential sweepstakes.
The candidate’s convincing Badger State victory — he romped over frontrunner Donald Trump statewide by roughly 15 points — raises the likelihood that the contest will tumble all the way into the national convention in Cleveland.
That spells terrible news for Trump, whose recent run of wild statements on both foreign and domestic policy have helped rally Republican opposition to his candidacy and increased the urgency for party leaders to block his nomination.
“Tonight is a turning point,” Cruz said in his victory speech. “It is a rallying cry. It is a call from the hardworking men and women of Wisconsin to the people of America. We have a choice, a real choice.”
Cruz went on to cast his win as a call for “unity” and for “hope” — a message of uplift plainly meant to contrast with the severity of Trump’s appeals. Trump helped drive home the distinction himself by issuing a cascade of insults against Cruz in a written statement in lieu of a public appearance. Rather than congratulating Cruz, the Trump campaign’s statement called him “worse than a puppet — he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump.”
Trump faces a more immediate challenge from the cold, hard delegate math. Once the Wisconsin delegates are apportioned, he’ll need close to 60% of those remaining to reach the 1,237 delegate threshold to clinch the nomination. And Trump’s campaign organization doesn’t appear up to managing a contest that will now be fought in significant part at the level of Congressional districts — to say nothing of mastering the arcane rules, gamesmanship, and delegate-wrangling necessary to prevail at a contested convention.
The next contest, two weeks away in Trump’s home state of New York, offers the businessman the potential for redemption and to twist momentum back in his favor. But since the state awards its delegates on a proportional basis, only a lights-out performance there across every corner of the state would inch him closer to his goal of wrapping up the race before Cleveland. And that kind of win looks increasingly remote after his Wisconsin defeat.