On the same night Donald Trump racked up wins across the country, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) spoke for many Republicans when he grudgingly conceded that the GOP has only one option left to stop the billionaire: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
“Ted Cruz is not my favorite by any means, and I don’t wish him ill—I was making a joke about Ted—but we may be in a position where we have to rally around Ted Cruz as the only way to stop Donald Trump, and I’m not so sure that would work,” Graham, who dropped his own bid for the White House in December, told CBS on Tuesday night.
It was quite the change of heart from last week when Graham, speaking at an event in Washington, joked: “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you,” reference to the chamber’s widespread dislike of the Texas lawmaker.
But Graham and others should think twice before tapping Cruz as their savior and the de facto GOP standard-bearer against Trump.
Cruz had staked much of his candidacy on winning Super Tuesday and the so-called “SEC Primary” of Southern states, where evangelicals were supposed to catapult him ahead of Trump. That theory held after Cruz’s victory in the Iowa caucuses, where he bested Trump among the key group, 34 to 22 percent.
But somewhere in the weeks between contests, anger about Washington began to outweigh Bible Belt beliefs, and Cruz finished behind Trump among evangelicals in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, according to data from last night. The only primaries where he came in first with evangelicals was in Texas, his home state, and Oklahoma, which shares a border with the Lone Star state.
Despite another win in far-off Alaska on Tuesday, the data indicate that while Cruz does well in his own region, that doesn’t make him a religious crusader capable of stopping Trump.
The calendar isn’t about to do him any favors, either.
On Mar. 5, Republicans will caucus in Kansas, Kentucky and Maine and hold a primary in Louisiana.
A survey released last week in Kansas showed Trump beating Cruz, 26 to 14 percent. The same goes for Kentucky, where likely caucus-goers support Trump 35 to 15 percent over Cruz. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who won Minnesota on Tuesday night, received 22 percent.
Ben Carson leads Trump in Louisiana, according to the few public opinion polls conducted in state, but the data is dated, coming well before the retired neurosurgeon became irrelevant to the presidential race.
Maine has also received scant attention, but surveys conducted last year had Trump at least 10 points ahead of his nearest rivals, and that was before the state’s controversial governor, Paul LePage, backed the real estate mogul and before he notched his biggest margin of victory Tuesday night in nearby Massachusetts.
Poor showings for Cruz this weekend could have a butterfly effect and hurt his standing in Puerto Rico on Mar. 6 and on Mar. 8 when voters turn out in Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan and Mississippi.