Things are appearing pretty bad for Donald Trump ahead of the key Wisconsin presidential primary next Tuesday.
So much so, that Trump, the GOP frontrunner, on Thursday thanked Wisconsinites for a poll that he was losing.
The poll, from Public Policy Polling, had Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas ahead of the real-estate magnate by a 38% to 37% total.
“Sure he didn’t read it, but our analysis of this poll is about how he’ll prob lose by more,” the pollster remarked after Trump’s social-media post.
Other recent polls haven’t been kind to Trump either – far worse, in fact.
A poll released this week from Marquette Law School – widely respected among political observers – had Trump trailing Cruz by 10 points. In February, the same poll had him up on Cruz by 11 points. Another poll released this week, from Fox Business, had Trump trailing Cruz by the same 10-point margin.
Overall, it’s been a fairly disastrous week for Trump in the state.
It began with a Monday interview with conservative Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes, a self-professed “Never Trump” Republican.
Among others things, Sykes grilled Trump over his treatment of Cruz’s wife. Trump had tweeted out an intentionally unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz and previously threatened to “spill the beans” on her.
Trump insisted that his barbs were retaliation after a super PAC unaffiliated with the Cruz campaign ran some ads with a racy photo of Trump’s own wife.
But Sykes didn’t buy Trump’s argument:
Is this your standard? That if a supporter of another candidate – not the candidate himself – does something despicable, that it’s OK for you, personally, a candidate for president of the United States, to behave in that same way? I mean, I expect that from a 12-year-old bully on the playground, not somebody who wants the office held by Abraham Lincoln.
- AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
The following day, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker endorsed Cruz on Sykes’ radio show.
Trump then started to furiously attack Walker’s record. That’s a questionable strategy, because Walker has an 80% approval rating in the state from likely Republican primary voters, although that number is much lower when all voters are factored in.
“He certainly can’t endorse me after what I did to him in the race, right?” Trump said of Walker at a Tuesday event, bringing attention to various attacks he levied against Walker before the governor dropped out of the 2016 race.
“Your governor has convinced you [Wisconsin] doesn’t have problems,” Trump later said.
On Wednesday, Trump walked into yet another firestorm after botching a question from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on abortion policy. Trump initially said he supported punishing women who receive abortions if they were made illegal, but soon backtracked after he was fiercely criticized by both the left and the right on the issue.
Trump is making a big push to win the state despite the recent headwinds.
He has filled his schedule with Wisconsin events ahead of the primary. He even added an event late to his schedule and is now holding a total of six rallies there between Saturday and Monday. On Friday, he also launched a new radio-ad campaign in the state.
Trump is still attracting large crowds at his Wisconsin rallies and, as Trip Gabriel wrote in The New York Times, the mogul has the advantage of a “large number of white working-class voters” and “a passionate base of supporters for whom he can do no wrong.”
- REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
But the state has been viewed for some time as the last stand of the “Never Trump” movement.
In mid-March, the conservative group Club for Growth sent out a three-page memo to donors promising the group would spend as much as $2 million in Wisconsin to assist Cruz, who worked to get a head start on Trump in the state, according to The Times.
Trump is also struggling in the Milwaukee suburbs, which are reportedly among the most Republican counties in the state. Those suburban voters were key to Walker’s gubernatorial victories.
“The Republican base still loves Scott Walker,” Tom Schreibel, a former chief of staff for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, told The Times. “The further you get from major metropolitan areas, Trump gets stronger.”
Trump’s regional struggles within the state will have in impact in the final delegate allocation. Wisconsin awards 18 delegates to the statewide winner – which is likely to be Cruz – and then the remaining 24 delegates are divided up evenly among the eight congressional districts.
Four of the eight are, at least partially, within the Milwaukee metro area.
Should Trump lose in Wisconsin by the margins he’s currently at in the earlier polls, he’d go from needing roughly 53% of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination to about 60%, according to Politico. The story of a Trump failure would also last two weeks until the next GOP primary: the April 19 New York contest.
A recent delegate projection from the data-news site FiveThirtyEight had Trump finishing just short – at 1,208 – of the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination outright. And that was a slightly outdated projection that had 25 of the 42 delegates in Wisconsin projected to go Trump’s way.
“I see an opportunity for us to have Trump walk out of there with no delegates,” Ed Goeas, a pollster who works for an anti-Trump super PAC, told The Times. “The narrative that comes out of Wisconsin has a huge impact.”