Ted Cruz won the Texas GOP primary on Tuesday, denying Donald Trump a victory in a nominating contest for the first time in a month. NBC News and CNN projected Cruz as the winner in his home state shortly after voting finished in the state.
Hooray, Ted? Please.
Cruz will treat the Texas results as a race-altering victory, as will the anyone-but-Trump GOP crowd, but in reality it’s not much more than a face-saving one. Remember, Super Tuesday wasn’t supposed to be the day that Cruz won Texas; it was supposed to be the day he won the South. By piling up wins in states like Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee (along with Texas) that made up the so-called SEC primary, Cruz would prove that he had far more staying power than Mike Huckabee did in 2008 and Rick Santorum did in 2012. Or, at least, that’s what Cruz was selling last fall. But after he took a drubbing 10 days ago in South Carolina—where Trump beat him and Rubio by 10 points—all of a sudden Team Cruz was redefining Super Tuesday success as simply winning at home.
A Texas victory isn’t nothing, of course. The state uses a convoluted process to divvy up its 155 delegates based on returns both across the state and in each congressional district, but Cruz should end up with more than Trump. Winning at home also gives Cruz a weapon to wield against Rubio and John Kasich, both of whom trail Trump in their own backyards ahead of March 15’s Florida and Ohio primaries. Still, it’s hardly something Cruz should brag about in the bigger picture.
Losing Texas would have been fatal to Cruz’s candidacy. Winning it, though, only slows the bleeding. By the time the Lone State Star was called for the Texas senator, Trump had already been projected the winner in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Virginia, states that were once on Cruz’s wish list. Ballots were still being counted in Arkansas, though Trump looked like a slightly better bet to win there than Cruz did. The one notable exception in the (quasi-)South was Oklahoma, where early exit polls showed Cruz leading by 8 points over Rubio and 11 points over Trump. If those surveys prove correct, Cruz will have another state in his victory column but his night will still pale in comparison to Trump’s.
(Update, 9:36 p.m: The Associated Press and others have now projected Cruz to win Oklahoma. That will bolster the Texan's case slightly, and a victory in Arkansas would give him a further boost if he were to pull out a win there. Still, that doesn't change the larger fact that Cruz fell far short of his goals in a region that is central to his candidacy. If he couldn't pull away from Trump there, it's difficult to imagine him making up ground in less friendly territory. Update, 10:23 p.m.: Trump won Arkansas, too.)
It’s difficult to see a plausible path to the nomination for Cruz that doesn’t include big wins in the South. He spent both time and money there last year in the hopes that his much-hyped ground game would allow him to prove that his insurgent campaign was capable of taking down the type of GOP establishment-approved candidates that normally hold on to win the nomination. Cruz’s problem on Tuesday, though, was the same it has been all year: He doesn’t look like that candidate, Trump does.