On the losing end in Wisconsin’s primary Tuesday night, Donald Trump was unusually sore — even for him.
“Lyin'” Ted Cruz had been used by the “party bosses” as a “Trojan horse” to try “to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump,” read a petulant Trump campaign statement.
The words were ungracious, inflammatory, destructive and juvenile — as though dictated by someone of impulsive temperament who can’t contain his frustration as he sees something he covets slipping from his grasp.
But there was still some truth to it.
A well-financed and somewhat co-ordinated counter-insurgency to stop Trump has entered the campaign, and Cruz is its tool.
After months of dithering over the basic problem — “you can’t beat somebody with nobody” — Republican grandees are coming slowly and reluctantly into the open arms of the Texas senator.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is among them — and might be the most astonished of all by his conversion.
You remember Senator Graham. In January, he described choosing between Trump and Cruz as like choosing between “being shot or poisoned. What does it matter?” he said.
Apparently it does matter — and poison is preferable.
Former rivals Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina and Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin who’s also an ex-presidential candidate, are all with Cruz now, too.
A Political Action Committee called Our Principles PAC spent millions against Trump in Wisconsin. They will spend more in the coming primary states, beginning with the New York contest set for April 19, and the following week in Pennsylvania and several other northeast states.
But to what end?
For Cruz to overtake Trump in the delegate count seems impossible.
See you in Cleveland
What the counter-insurgents seem to have in mind instead is to stop Trump from winning a majority (1,237) of the delegates to the convention in July in Cleveland.
At the heart of their strategy is a belief that the campaign has become a referendum on Trump and that he will get everything he’s going to get on the first ballot. If it’s not enough, if he can be held to less than a majority on that first ballot, he’ll have no growth on subsequent ballots so he’ll be done. A loser.
Derailing Trump has become a more urgent mission for his foes in the past couple of weeks as he’s tangled himself up in careless comments about his policies — and particularly about women.
Police charged his campaign manager with battery after a female reporter complained he’d manhandled and bruised her when she tried to question a moving Trump as she followed along at his side.
Security video seems to back up her story, but Trump suggested she made up the whole incident — and might even have posed a threat to him.
“She had a pen in her hand, which the Secret Service is not liking, because they don’t know what it is, whether it’s a little bomb,” he told reporters.
A little bomb.
It was around the same time that he retweeted an unflattering picture of Cruz’s wife next to a glamorous shot of his own spouse. He later said he regretted it.
A few days after that, he spoke of punishment for women who have abortions. Then he changed his mind.
Curious Republicans who were led to wonder how all this might play among voters discovered what had been sitting there for months: Trump’s unfavourable rating among women polls north of 70 per cent.
Further investigation revealed that should Trump happen to be on the ballot against a woman in November, he would lose. Despite his claims to the contrary, Hillary Clinton consistently beats him in national polls and sometimes by double digits.
Nukes, walls and lists of judges
Forays into policy haven’t all gone well either. Trump refused to rule out a nuclear strike in Europe, saying he “wouldn’t take anything off the table.”
But to his credit, he is finally answering requests for details about his plans.
He gave the Washington Post a memo outlining how he would make Mexico pay for the wall he intends to build on their border.
It says he would demand $5-10 billion dollars on “Day One” and if Mexico didn’t pay up, he’d cut off the “remittances” — money Mexicans send to their families back home — from Mexicans living in the U.S. illegally. It’s not clear he could do that or what the consequences might be.
He also told the Post that he would soon provide a list of potential Supreme Court appointees.
The list will be prepared for him by conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation and he has promised that, as president, he would appoint from it.
That seems an obvious play to the critics who question his commitment to conservative values. It might also mean that he is recognizing his image needs work.
So does his campaign. He needs to step up the pace. The data mavens have figured that, after losing Wisconsin, Trump will need to win 62 per cent of the remaining Republican delegates. So far he’s been winning about 46 per cent of them.
And just when things appear to be aligning against him.
A few months ago, a clever analyst said that the media had distinguished themselves by underestimating Trump in the first half of the campaign and would distinguish themselves by overestimating him in the second half.
That might be true. In the meantime, the party is coming apart.