Ted Cruz wins Wisconsin, but Donald Trump states loom on horizon

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at a campaign stop at Waukesha County Exposition Center in Wisconsin on Monday, April 4, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at a campaign stop at Waukesha County Exposition Center in Wisconsin on Monday, April 4, 2016. AP

Donald Trump-haters shouldn’t get too excited about Ted Cruz’s big Wisconsin victory Tuesday.

Peek ahead and the future for the stop-Trump forces is still daunting:

– The Republican race now turns to Northeastern states, where the senator from Texas has shown little appeal.

He remains far behind Trump in convention delegates.

– Cruz’s Wisconsin win came after everything went perfectly for him. Not only did Trump stumble, but Wisconsin conservatives are unusually well-organized. Cruz will be fortunate to duplicate those advantages in upcoming primaries.

Data curated by InsideGov

The Cruz victory does come with some benefits that might linger. He effectively rallied the disparate stop-Trump forces into a unified movement. And while Trump has the only reasonable mathematical chance of having enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot at this summer’s Republican National Convention, he’s still far from clinching a victory.

Cruz is also likely to get another boost this weekend, when Colorado’s Republican conventions pick delegates.

Then he heads toward a steep political highway cluttered with obstacles. Virtually all the remaining GOP contests are primaries, which usually favor Trump. Cruz excels at party caucuses and conventions, which attract activists and those eager to promote the sort of staunch conservative ideology Cruz so passionately articulates.

Primaries are messier affairs. In several states, independents can vote. Turnout is bigger, since people can vote all day rather than for the few hours caucuses and conventions meet. Bigger blocs of voters are often less committed to a single ideology.

The next primary stop is New York on April 19. It’s Trump’s home state. Voters know him and his foibles well, and Republicans said they preferred the billionaire real estate developer overwhelmingly over Cruz in a RealClearPolitics average of four late March polls.

New York’s 95 delegates are more than those available in Wisconsin and Colorado combined.

A week later, five potentially Trump-friendly states vote: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Each has a long and, more important, recent history of electing center-right Republicans.

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A bigger problem for Trump in those states could be Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who’s in a statistical tie with Trump in Pennsylvania.

John Weaver, Kasich’s chief strategist, maintained Tuesday night that the campaign’s internal data confirm his strength. Kasich, though, has so far won only his home state and has 143 convention delegates, making it nearly impossible for him to reach the 1,237 needed to nominate on a first ballot – and unlikely to top Cruz on a second vote.

Cruz’s last primary stand would come June 7, a day that includes Trump-friendly California and New Jersey. Those two states alone have 223 delegates.

Cruz’s best hope is for Trump to keep staggering as he has in the last 10 days. Cruz already had come to Wisconsin on an upswing, having done well in Utah and North Dakota and winning the endorsement of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a onetime presidential rival.

Then Trump kept blundering. Florida police charged his campaign manager a week ago with simple battery involving a former Breitbart News reporter. The next day, Trump suggested in a town hall meeting in Green Bay that women who have abortions should be punished, then later he walked that back.

There was more: disavowing his earlier pledge to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee and saying Japan and South Korea need to develop their own nuclear capabilities.

Exit polls found that late-deciding voters broke decisively for Cruz.

Trump also faced in Wisconsin one of the nation’s best-organized conservative movements. It helped elect Walker twice – and helped him survive a 2012 recall effort – and it counts House Speaker Paul Ryan and national GOP Chairman Reince Priebus in its ranks.

The conservatives delivered for Cruz. Three of four Republican voters were conservatives, and they went big for Cruz. He also won among born-again or evangelical Christians, who made up 43 percent of the electorate. Two of three voters said Cruz “shares my values.”

Cruz is unlikely to have all that going for him in upcoming states. What he will have is an increasingly energized stop-Trump movement, one that will be insisting Wednesday that it’s surging, making fresh arguments to big donors and party insiders they’re on the march.

Cruz also will also have a sophisticated operation hunting for convention delegates, trying to assure them that though they may be bound to Trump on a first ballot, most can turn to Cruz on a second vote.

Wipe away Tuesday’s night’s confetti, though, and Cruz’s monumental task reappears. Before the Wisconsin primary, Trump needed an estimated 56 percent of the remaining delegates to get a the majority.

Even if he lost all 42 Wisconsin delegates, Trump’s challenge was only tweaked, not devastated. He would still need an estimated 500 to win the nomination. Cruz, instead of needing 756, would now need 714 – or roughly 4 out of 5 remaining available delegates. Tuesday helps, but the numbers illustrate why Wisconsin was not all that big a deal.

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid

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