Surrounded by his family, Cruz reminded his supporters that he had always said he would continue his campaign as long as there was a path to victory. “Tonight, I’m sorry to say, it appears that path has been foreclosed,” he said. “Together we left it all on the field in Indiana. We gave it all we got. But the voters chose another path.”
Far from endorsing Trump, Cruz signaled that he was about to join, in spirit if not officially, the collection of conservatives who now believe the 2016 presidential election is a lost cause, that Hillary Clinton is not only the presumptive Democratic nominee but the presumptive 45th president of the United States. Cruz modeled his speech on Ronald Reagan’s address, as a runner-up, to the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City. What he didn’t need to say was that four years after that speech, Reagan ran again and defeated the embattled Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. Cruz, who is just 45 years old, didn’t need to lay it out explicitly, but he might as well have launched his 2020 campaign right then and there in Indiana. “Hear me now,” he said instead, “I am not suspending our fight for liberty. I am not suspending our fight to defend the Constitution.”
Republican voters gave Cruz a good long look in 2016. He ran as an uncompromising conservative from the outset, and it looked briefly as if he might stop the Trump train when he defeated the New York billionaire in Iowa in February. But although Cruz picked up a bucket of delegates by winning his home state of Texas, he underperformed throughout the South on Super Tuesday. Cruz was a strong debater and a better organizer, winning repeatedly in caucus states and outlasting Marco Rubio to become the final serious threat to Trump. But he was hamstrung by his awkwardness as a retail campaigner and never made a real effort to make peace with the Republican Party leaders who might have helped him unify the “Never Trump” movement.
Trump regained his footing with landslide wins in New York and then throughout the Northeast. All the while, he continued browbeating Cruz and playing dirty; Trump labeled him “Lyin’ Ted,” promoted reports that Cruz had affairs on the campaign trail, threatened to go after his wife, and finally, in the closing days of the campaign, suggested that Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination. Cruz, in turn, became increasingly desperate. He struck a non-aggression pact with John Kasich to increase his chances in Indiana, and then, just a week before he dropped out, announced that Carly Fiorina would be his running mate if he could only knock off Trump to win the nomination.
None of it worked.
Rather than close the gap with Trump, Cruz fell further. A lead in Indiana polling vanished, and Cruz was on pace to lose the state by more than 15 points. Perhaps most telling, however, was how Republicans seemed to sour on Cruz over time. In Gallup polling, more than half of GOP voters had a favorable image of Cruz when the year started. By late April, just 39 percent did, and 45 percent had an unfavorable view of him.
Republicans took a long look at Cruz, and the more they saw him, the less they liked him. Starting Tuesday night, he’ll have at least four more years to turn those hard feelings around.