Ted Cruz is feeling confident about victory in Wisconsin.
“I think we’re going to have a good night,” the Texas Republican, who was all smiles, said as he roamed the Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha on Monday, fielding questions from reporters in between shaking hands and taking selfies with patrons. He was flanked by wife, Heidi Cruz; Governor Scott Walker; and U.S. Senator Mike Lee.
He even professed his love of cheese and quipped that he’d like to “arm the cheese curds.”
His confidence is well-grounded: a string of recent polls shows him leading Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump in the Badger State.
“We’re seeing a turning point playing out over the last several weeks,” Cruz said, talking up a recent victory in Utah and delegate pickups in North Dakota. A win in Wisconsin, he added, would “make a powerful statement all across the country” and “have a powerful impact on the states that are coming up.”
Yet Cruz needs to prevail in Wisconsin if he stands any chance of changing the dynamics of the Republican race, because his challenges only grow from here.
He’s more than 250 delegates behind Trump, according to an Associated Press tally. Even if he wins all of Wisconsin’s 42 delegates, Cruz’s path to securing the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination outright is all but closed. The more pertinent question is whether he can erase or significantly cut into Trump’s lead.
The remaining states in the Republican primary indicate that will be a daunting task. Polls show Trump comfortably leading in each of the three most delegate-rich states—New York, Pennsylvania, and California—yet to vote. Without victories in those, Cruz's chances seem remote.
“That would require really a sea change that the tide has turned on Trump and the public has soured on him,” Rick Tyler, former communications director for the Cruz campaign, said of Cruz’s prospects of overtaking Trump in the delegate race. “We haven't seen that moment yet and it remains to be seen whether we will see that moment.”
Behind the scenes, Cruz's campaign is working intently to secure the support of delegates who may not be bound to a particular candidate, attempting to capitalize on arcane quirks in state rules.
“I'd give Team Cruz the advantage on that one,” Tyler said. “They're organized that way. They're very competently organized.”
The Trump campaign’s irritation was apparent in a leaked memo dated Saturday that followed a rough week for the former reality TV star in which his campaign manager was charged with simple battery of a female reporter and the billionaire struggled to articulate a coherent stance on abortion rights. The memo, written by Trump senior adviser Barry Bennett and titled “Digging through the Bull S---,” was first reported by the Washington Post.
The memo lambasted media criticism of Trump as “another pathetic display by the so called experts” and pointed to survey data that show the New Yorker continuing to lead the field nationally. “Their idiotic attacks just remind voters why they hate the Washington Establishment,” Bennett wrote.
The Cruz campaign's frustrations with Ohio Governor John Kasich—who insists on staying in the race even as he trails Trump by some 600 delegates and Cruz by more than 300—have also been on display. The Texan believes Kasich is siphoning more votes from Cruz than Trump and thereby helping the front-runner.
At a Monday evening rally in Waukesha County, Cruz surrogate and former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said she ended up dropping out and eventually supporting the Texas senator because she wanted a conservative who had a path to victory.
“Kasich. Get the memo,” she said.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a 2012 presidential candidate, predicted that Republican elites won't stop Trump from being the nominee if he enjoys a significant lead in delegates.
“They won't. Won't happen, because of the sheer weight of the legitimacy of voting and the legitimacy of democracy,” Gingrich said in a recent interview. “If Cruz is close enough to have a legitimate fight, and Cruz and Kasich form an alliance, and Rubio's votes go to Cruz, that's a legitimate fight and I think Trump can concede that.”
“If Trump's under 1,000,” a convention fight is plausible, Gingrich said, “but he's not going to be under 1,000. That's why all these things are a fantasy. The underlying legitimacy of those votes swamps the underlying anxiety of the elites.”
Cruz, for his part, mocked Trump as an outsider to conservatism.
“It's easy to talk about makin’ America great again. You can even print that on a baseball cap,” he said at the Waukesha County rally, referring to Trump's campaign slogan. “But the real question is: Do you understand the values and principles that made America great in the first place?”