On Tuesday, May 3rd, Indiana will decide the fate of the anti-Trump movement. A victory for Ted Cruz would provide a critical morale boost to Donald J. Trump’s opponents, who suffered a slew of losses in the Northeast in the latter half of April. Another crushing defeat, however, would signify the end of the road for Mr. Trump’s critics by placing the possibility of a contested convention—where the current frontrunner will face a distinct disadvantage—just out of reach.
Indiana will answer several lingering questions about Mr. Trump’s powerful performances in the Northeast. A decisive victory in the Hoosier State, which shares many demographic characteristics with Wisconsin, a state which Mr. Cruz took easily in early April, would demonstrate that the surge of support which Mr. Trump experienced in the northeastern primaries is indicative of a growing acceptance of his candidacy by the mainstream Republican primary electorate. It is also worth noting that Mr. Trump’s dominance in New York solidified the aura of inevitability surrounding his campaign, discouraging many of the real estate mogul’s most ardent critics from casting a ballot at all in the following week’s elections, where he took home much larger victories than anticipated.1 Thus, a victory in Indiana might simply reflect the widespread demoralization among the anti-Trump electorate, rather than a groundswell of support for the candidate himself.
A strong performance for Mr. Trump would also tip the scales against Mr. Cruz in the battle for the support of unbound delegates—those who may vote for any candidate of their choice at the national convention. In Pennsylvania, where the congressional district delegates are officially unbound and directly elected, 39 of the state’s 54 congressional district delegates have indicated that they plan to support Mr. Trump on the first ballot at the convention. And in North Dakota, where Ted Cruz captured a significant majority of convention delegates at the beginning of April, the resolve of the Texas senator’s supporters has weakened considerably in the face of his opponent’s recent gains. According to a report from the New York Times, Mr. Cruz now only has the support of “at least ten” of the state’s 28 unbound delegates, a far cry from the “vast majority” which his campaign claimed to have last month.
Much of this shift in support comes from unbound delegates who, though unhappy with the prospect of having Mr. Trump as the party’s nominee, feel that a party united behind the brash businessman will be more likely to prevail against the Democratic Party’s choice in November. “I’m not in the anybody-but-Trump campaign,” remarked one delegate to the Times. “I’m in the anybody-but-Hillary campaign.”
The Republican primary electorate also appears to have shifted in Mr. Trump’s direction. Though the rules at the Republican National Convention indicate that a candidate cannot win the nomination until he or she obtains a majority of the delegates, most voters disagree with this requirement. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in mid-April, more than three-fifths of GOP voters agree that the candidate “with the most votes,” not the “best party standard-bearer,” should be the Republican presidential nominee if no one manages to obtain a delegate majority on the first ballot at the convention. But fortunately for Mr. Cruz, the poll also revealed that a win for the Texas senator at a contested convention would be acceptable to about a little more than half of Republican primary voters in spite of his distant second-place position in the race now.
To regain his footing and to preserve the anti-Trump movement for a climactic battle in California on June 7th, Ted Cruz must defeat Donald Trump in Indiana on Tuesday. Otherwise, Mr. Trump’s momentum will only increase, and it will be too late to stop the “Trump train” from steaming its way to the Republican presidential nomination.
- Of all the states which have voted so far in primary elections, five of the six northeastern states which voted in late April—New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland—also held five of the six lowest-turnout primaries. Only Pennsylvania stayed out of the bottom ten, but it too had below-average turnout. ^