UPDATE - An extraordinary development broke late Sunday evening, after this initial post was written. The Cruz and Kasich campaigns have announced a strategic partnership to deny delegates to polarizing frontrunner Donald Trump, with the Ohio Governor effectively pulling out of Indiana -- which should redound to Cruz's benefit (see polling numbers below) -- and the Texas Senator ceding Oregon and New Mexico to Kasich. Here's the Cruz camp's statement, with Team Kasich confirming their end of the bargain in a separate press release. Wow:
It seems as though Mitt Romney may have had a hand in facilitating the conversation that led to this dramatic pact. Fascinating, high-level politics, with the remaining #NeverTrump options teaming up to try to force a contested convention in Cleveland.
Let's start with a piece of important analysis of the GOP horserace. This is true, though caveats are beginning to apply:
Post-NY Trump inevitability narrative may ultimately be self-fulfilling, but it's contrived nonsense. The delegate equation has not changed.— Liam Donovan (@LPDonovan) April 24, 2016
Correct. Trump was always expected to win big in his home state of New York, which he did. He's also seen as the odds-on favorite to sweep five northeastern blue states (in which the GOP ticket stands no change in the fall; see below) tomorrow night. Those outcomes have been baked into the expectations cake -- and analysts' delegate math -- for weeks. They don't shape the trajectory of the race, insofar as the drive to 1,237 is concerned. But what if Trump's flurry of wins, starting in New York, does start to impact voters' thinking ahead of the remaining nominating contests? We're starting to see evidence that Trump has opened up a modest but consistent lead in Indiana, which will hold a critical primary on May 3rd. The Hoosier State is pretty darn close to a must-win for the Cruz campaign. In some ways, it's similarly-situated to Wisconsin, suggesting that Cruz should be well positioned to succeed there. But with John Kasich reportedly digging in (see update, obviously) as an anti-#NeverTrump spoiler, Cruz has his work cut out for him:
Those polls come in addition to a third survey showing Trump head by six points, capping off a trio of awfully consistent data points. Indiana awards its delegates on a winner-take-all basis, but statewide and by Congressional District. A Trump win there would deal a serious blow to Cruz, especially if new polling out of California is even close to accurate. We've told you about Cruz's enormous organizational edge on the ground in the Golden State -- but out-hustling and out-working your opponent can only get you so far if you're down by 20 or more points, and when that advantage spans the state's various regions. If the Fox News' Indiana and California numbers hold up (and that's still a big if), then there's a very legitimate chance that Trump solidifies his delegate majority before Cleveland. Nevertheless, there are reasons for staunch Trump opponents to hold off on waving the white flag: (1) Cruz is reportedly planning to mount a furious effort in Indiana over the next eight days, hoping to tap into latent discomfort with Trump, as evidenced by Trump still floating in his typical mid-30's to low-40's range. Despite the media drumbeat, most GOP voters there are leaning toward either the Texas Senator or the Ohio Governor. Thus, the strategic coordination reported above. One big question is whether Gov. Mike Pence will get off the sidelines and help Cruz in his state, which proved quite beneficial in Wisconsin when Scott Walker threw his support behind the Texan. (2) Despite Trump adding a more experienced and sophisticated delegate team in recent weeks, he's still getting his rear end handed to him by Team Cruz:
Ted Cruz notched another delegate landslide Saturday, stretching his advantage in a competition that might never occur: the second ballot of a contested Republican National Convention in July. Cruz won at least 65 of the 94 delegates up for grabs Saturday (he may have won more than 65, but Kentucky’s 25 delegates haven’t revealed their leanings). The Texas senator has so thoroughly dominated the fight to send loyalists to the national convention that if front-runner Donald Trump fails to clinch the nomination on the first ballot, Cruz is well-positioned to surpass him — and perhaps even snag the nomination for himself — when delegates are free in subsequent convention rounds to vote for whomever they want. On Saturday, he nearly won 19 of 20 seats available in Maine, losing just one to a Trump backer: Gov. Paul LePage. He also won all nine delegates on the ballot in three Minnesota congressional districts, picking up support in the lone state won by Marco Rubio [beyond Puerto Rico and DC]. Cruz also grabbed one of three delegates in South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, while the other two went to an uncommitted delegate and a supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Cruz’s biggest windfall, though, came from Utah, where at least 36 of 37 national delegates will be aligned with Cruz, who crushed Trump in the state’s caucuses on March 22.
(3) Evidence continues to build that Trump would be a general election dumpster fire for the GOP. He trails Hillary Clinton by 15 points in Pennsylvania, according to a fresh Marist poll out of the Keystone State. We reported last week that a new survey of New Hampshire voters revealed a 19-point deficit for Trump in that state. And despite being virtually tied with Clinton in extremely conservative states such as Utah and Mississippi, the brash mogul is bragging to supporters that he'll flip a string of states long-dominated by Democrats in presidential years into the red column:
"I will win New York against Hillary Clinton. I think I'm going to win New York," Trump told voters in Harrington, Del., late Friday afternoon. "And I'll win Michigan and I'll win Pennsylvania... And I'm going to win Florida. We had a huge win in Florida. And I wasn't expected to win Florida...And of course we're going to win Delaware, but we know that," he added.
For perspective, recent polls show Mrs. Clinton up by more than 20 points over Trump in New York. He trails her in Pennsylvania and Michigan by wide margins, as well. She also leads in Florida, by an average of approximately five points in surveys taken in March and beyond. There is no general election polling data out of Delaware, but the average Republican share of the presidential vote over the last five cycles has been 40 percent in the state. Draw your own conclusions. I'll leave you with Chris Wallace grilling Trump's new de facto campaign manager over his behind-closed-doors "it's all an act" assurances to RNC insiders late last week: