How Cruz Lost His Anti-Establishment Agenda to Donald Trump

Texas Senator and Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz dropped out from a supercharged race for nomination this Tuesday (3 May), after failing to win in the state of Indiana. Cruz’s withdrawal virtually hands the Republican nomination to Donald Trump, who now needs less than 200 delegates out of a possible 520, with only Ohio Governor John Kasich in the race. Earlier, Trump won over 53 percent of the vote in Indiana to extend his lead over Cruz to an almost unassailable 482 delegates, prompting Cruz to drop his campaign.

Cruz’s defeat in many ways is a fallout of the follies of his own campaign. When he first announced his candidature, Cruz came into the fray with a reputation of being disliked by the Republican establishment. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote in a column this March that “Cruz was – and is – hated by the Republican Party establishment, who view him as a grandstander with little interest in any of the niceties of politics.”

In many ways, Cruz echoed Trump’s agony with the establishment and began his campaign as an anti-establishment savior of the American conservatives. During a speech at the Liberty University in March last year, Cruz lambasted what he called the “Washington cartel”. In the months that followed, he targeted establishment favorites such as Senator Marco Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, eventually outlasting both in the campaign.

Yet, when the race narrowed down, Cruz hoped to gain the support of the same Republican establishment which he had long despised and attacked. In its bid to block Trump, the establishment too reluctantly backed him. By the end of this March, exactly a year after the Liberty University speech, Cruz had won the support of all of Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham.

But the establishment’s support only allowed Trump to run a severely discrediting campaign against Cruz. Trump accused Cruz of attempting to “steal” the nomination by winning the support of the Republican establishment and cried foul that the Texas Senator stood to gain from a “rigged” system. He coined the unflattering sobriquet “Lyin’ Ted” to suggest that Cruz was misleading voters. The apparent shift of the Cruz campaign from anti-establishment to pro-establishment didn’t help, given that Trump had already whipped up sentiments of anger and despair.

The strategy seemed to work for Trump. In a poll run by Gallup a few days ago, 45 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning independents recorded an unfavorable view of Cruz, while only 35 percent held the same view for Trump. This was a sharp turnaround from only four months ago, in January, when only 15 percent of respondents held an unfavorable view of Cruz while 35 percent viewed Trump unfavorably.

Even individual voters attributed the changed trend to Trump’s negative campaign aimed at Cruz. One Cruz volunteer interviewed by The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan said that many Indiana voters were “concerned with the nickname he’s been given – ‘Lyin’ Ted’” while others said that “Ted Cruz is rigging the system”.

In the end, Cruz didn’t have a coherent agenda on whether he was with the establishment or against them. Trump, by contrast, consistently drummed up and leveraged the anger and resentment which many Republican voters held against the party establishment. And he now has the unquestionable results to show for.

(c) 2016, Swarajya