Texas Sen. Ted Cruz delivered a complete drubbing to frontrunner Donald J. Trump in the Republican primary election in Wisconsin last night. With 99 percent of the vote counted, Cruz beat Trump 48 to 35, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich taking just 14 percent.
The result means that Cruz will come away with at least 36 delegates, and Trump with as few as three. (One Congressional district’s three delegates are still in play.) Trump reacted to the loss like a preschooler unhappy about losing a game of Chutes and Ladders.
Rather than address his supporters, as candidates traditionally do after an election – even a losing one – Trump, through his campaign, issued a petulant statement accusing Cruz of violating election law, and serving as a “puppet” for the Republican establishment (despite the well-documented fact that Cruz is about the only person members of the Republican establishment actually dislike more than Donald Trump).
The Trump statement was delivered in a single, long paragraph, complete with dubious grammar and punctuation, as though dictated by an angry billionaire anxious to board his private jet and finally escape the Midwest for the friendlier confines of the East Coast:
“Donald J. Trump withstood the onslaught of the establishment yet again. Lyin’ Ted Cruz had the Governor of Wisconsin, many conservative talk radio show hosts, and the entire party apparatus behind him. Not only was he propelled by the anti-trump Super PAC’s spending countless millions of dollars on false advertising against Mr. Trump, but he was coordinating ‘with his own Super PAC’s (which is illegal) who totally control him. Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet--- he is a Trojan horse being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump. We have total confidence that Mr. Trump will go on to win in New York, where he holds a substantial lead in all the polls, and beyond. Mr. Trump is the only candidate who can secure the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination and ultimately defeat Hillary Clinton or whomever is the Democratic nominee, in order to Make America Great Again.”
To be clear, there is no evidence that Cruz violated the law in any way. But there is solid evidence to suggest that this will be Trump’s modus operandi going forward whenever he hits a speed bump on the way to the Republican nominating convention in July.
While the results in the Badger state don’t change the fact that Trump remains the frontrunner and the most likely nominee, his failure in Wisconsin makes it very difficult for him to cement that status on the basis of primary voting alone. He will almost certainly come into the convention in Cleveland with the most votes of any of the three remaining candidates, but it now looks doubtful that he will secure the 1,237 he would need for a first-ballot nomination.
A contested convention is the nightmare scenario for Trump, where his small and loosely organized campaign will run up against a well-oiled Cruz operation that is already peeling delegates away from the billionaire in backroom wrangling.
The Donald has spent the last eight months preparing his defense against Cruz in a convention battle by cultivating a sense of victimhood in his supporters, alleging the existence of a conspiracy of the Republican establishment to snatch the nomination away through trickery.
With Trump himself predicting riots if he is not nominated in July, and a prominent Trump surrogate actively inciting them, his decision to amplify that message in his statement last night is a clear signal of where this contest is heading.
Trump has long since decided that he is entitled to the GOP nomination and will go straight to scorched earth tactics if it looks as though he’ll be deprived of it. Baseless claims of election law violations are just the start.
This article was updated on April 6, 2016 at 8:15 am.