Indiana was supposed to be Ted Cruz’s fire wall. This was the state that was going to stop the Trump train in its tracks, well short of Trump securing a majority of the GOP delegates prior to the convention. A resounding victory in Indiana would have provided Cruz with the opportunity to beat Donald Trump in a contested GOP convention on the second or third ballot.
However, a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll of likely GOP voters in Indiana has Trump beating Cruz handily by 15 points — 49% to 34% — with Kasich coming in third with 13%. (As last night’s actual results in Indiana indicate, the polls were dead on. Trump won with 53% of the vote to Cruz’s 36% and Kasich at a mere 7%. So much for the Cruz/Kasich coalition, and Cruz’s “Hail Mary Pass” of selecting Carly Fiorina as his Vice Presidential running mate.)
But over 50% of the GOP electorate in Indiana are white evangelicals. These are Cruz’s peeps! And Cruz secured the endorsement of conservative GOP governor, Mike Pence, reputedly a hero of the religious right.
Where did Cruz go wrong?
Firstly, Cruz fatally misread the Indiana electorate. In the last few weeks Cruz has been hammering Trump on the basis that Trump is soft on the religious liberty of the Christian right. In other words, Trump is pro-gay, pro-same sex marriage, and pro-LGBTQ rights (especially the right of transgender people to use the washroom of their choice).
According to Cruz, all these above activities and practices are contrary to the strict Christian right religious principles. And further according to Cruz, Christian-oriented business owners should be not forced to serve gay people, same-sex couples, or those who identify as transgender.
Cruz failed to realize that although Indiana is a conservative state, neither the evangelicals nor the Tea Party types have significant influence over Indiana politics. The ideology of Indiana Republicans is more Main Street values, small business, and small conservative government, without the emphasis on social conservative values.
Secondly, the evangelical voters in Indiana appear to be choosing Trump over Cruz or Kasich on economic and national security issues, as the GOP evangelicals did in Mississippi where 84% of the GOP voters self-identified as evangelicals. In that primary, Trump won 48% to 39% of the evangelicals. (Trump also beat Cruz among evangelicals in South Carolina, by 33% to 27%)
Note even Indiana Governor Pence’s endorsement of Cruz appears lukewarm. In the same public announcement, Pence praised Trump. He stated, “I particularly want to commend Donald Trump, who I think has given voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans with a lack of progress in Washington, D.C. And I’m also particularly grateful that Donald Trump has taken a strong stand for Hoosier jobs when we saw jobs in the Carrier company abruptly announce leaving Indiana not for another state but for Mexico.” He continued, “I’m grateful for his voice in the national debate.”
Frankly, that was one of the strongest, most thoughtful, and most genuine comments in favour of Trump by any government official during these primaries.
Thirdly, Cruz’s coalition gambit with Kasich, I believe, has also hurt the Cruz campaign in Indiana.
A recent poll concludes about 60% of the Indiana voters were opposed to the Cruz/Kasich coalition, in which Kasich was not to vigorously campaign in Indiana thus encouraging Kasich supporters to back Cruz. Except Kasich supporters are sticking with Kasich (note his 13% support in the WSJ/NBC poll).
I believe that Indiana voters are rejecting Cruz in part because this ridiculous failed coalition reeks of sleazy backroom politics, lacking in principles and integrity with the sole goal of stopping Trump and not advancing any policies of interest to Indiana voters.
Lastly, for those Trump critics who are still deluded into thinking that Trump is a buffoon and a joke, he is on the brink of pulling off an incredible political upset. He beat Cruz in the heart of socially conservative, evangelical Indiana by being his own guy and sticking to his very strong economic message in favour of hard-working and middle-income groups, while still supporting gender and sexual equality. Note Trump has specifically not pandered to the extreme right-wing social conservatives of the GOP.
Accordingly, unlike Romney before him, Trump will be able to pivot to the centre, without social conservative baggage and take on Hillary where she is weakest: on improving the economy for the working-class and middle-income groups.
Hillary, you should be scared. Be very scared of The Donald.