In the end, Indiana was an anticlimax.
Donald Trump’s victory in a state that the prognosticators once said was fertile ground for Ted Cruz was forecast by media polling, but the loss of drama was more profound than that. The Hoosier state, famous for what Cruz called its basketball rings, was no longer deemed a must-win for Trump.
In fact, news organizations had concluded that Trump had a clear path to the magic 1,237 even if he lost Indiana. And that drained much of the drama. The only remaining question was the margin, and Trump won so easily that the networks called the race the second the polls closed at 7 eastern.
It would be easy to attribute Trump’s triumph to momentum. The way he rolled through New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island clearly gave him a winner’s aura.
Cruz’s rough week, in which every real or perceived stumble was magnified by the media, also played a role.
By early Tuesday morning, cable networks were using such phrases as “The Donald on the brink” or “Cruz facing his Waterloo.”
But what devalued the Indiana contest were days of coverage on how the members of a crumbling Republican establishment were reluctantly embracing Trump, or at least resigning themselves to his nomination.
The papers were filled with quotes from GOP honchos saying they wanted to avoid a contested convention, that it was time for the party to unify, and that maybe Trump wasn’t so bad after all. Reporters tracked down Cruz delegates who said they were thinking of switching to Trump.
The prospect of Cleveland combat, and the journalistic dream of the first brokered
convention in 40 years, began to fade.
Some voices in the party, the conservative media and the #NeverTrump movement continued to warn that his nomination would be suicidal. But there was a sense that the thing is wrapping up. With Trump leading by 34 points in one California poll, Indiana’s 57 delegates were never as important as the press hype suggested.
The media started covering Cruz with the relentless negativity reserved for a candidate who is seen as sinking. He is wrong that the media are in the tank for Trump, but it is true that he’s been unable to catch a break.
It started with the doomed Kasich deal and the long-shot Fiorina move. Then he had to deny being Lucifer. By the time Carly fell off a stage the other day, the pundits were ripping Cruz for not rushing to rescue her.
Perhaps nothing symbolized his rocky road more vividly than his engaging a Trump supporter in a lengthy debate captured by the cameras. It was an obvious attempt to create a moment, and I thought it took some verve. But the pundits jeered, calling it cringe-inducing. And there was something sad about Cruz saying “I treated you respectfully, sir” to some sign-carrying who retorted with “Lyin’ Ted” and “Are you Canadian?”
The senator indeed seemed desperate when he called Trump, whose first divorce was tabloid fodder, a “serial philanderer” who once spoke of venereal disease as his Vietnam. (And Trump wasn’t exactly statesmanlike in repeating a National Enquirer report saying Cruz’s father was standing next to Lee Harvey Oswald when JFK’s killer was murdered.) Cruz also ratcheted up his attacks on the media, including Fox News, for somehow handing the race to his rival.
Indiana was billed as the last, best chance for Trump’s opponents to stop him. Whether there are any opportunities left remains to be seen.