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Ted Cruz posted a strong win in Wisconsin’s Republican presidential primary on Tuesday. When all the votes are counted, he’ll beat Donald Trump by double digits and take at least 33 of the state’s 42 delegates.
This is a big win and a better-than-expected night for Cruz. But he will have trouble replicating this result in other states that remain to vote.
Wisconsin was an unusually favorable state for Cruz. Part of the reason for that was demographic: As Nate Cohn has written for The New York Times, Wisconsin’s high education levels, fairly high church attendance, and high concentration of white Protestants of northern European ancestry were all unfavorable to Trump. The other states that remain to vote tend to look better for Trump: more Catholic, less educated.
Trump was also disadvantaged by several unique political factors in Wisconsin. The state has gone through several close and acrimoniously partisan elections over the past six years, including a gubernatorial recall election and several legislative recalls. These have served to make the state’s Republicans organized and cohesive. Wisconsin Republicans are focused on Democrats as the enemy, not discontented with their own party establishment.
Wisconsin’s cohesive Republican establishment forces aligned against Trump, and they used their unusually high level of credibility with Republican voters to really damage him. Gov. Scott Walker, the target of that recall election, is highly popular with Republicans. Walker campaigned hard for Cruz, and Trump picked a bizarre, losing fight with him, even attacking him for failing to raise taxes.
Trump has also been fiercely attacked by influential Milwaukee-area conservative talk-radio hosts like Charlie Sykes. They helped foment an anti-Trump narrative, unlike the pro-Trump narrative encouraged by many national conservative radio hosts.
All those were factors that helped lead to Trump’s wide loss – but there is no equivalent machine that can move Republican voters against Trump in such an organized manner in states like New York, Pennsylvania, and California.
Cruz says he will take the fight to New York, which votes in two weeks and where Trump has an overwhelming average poll lead of more than 30 points.
New York’s Republican Party is essentially leaderless, and there are no influential figures like Walker or Sykes to urge Republicans to align behind Cruz. California also has a weak Republican establishment, while New Jersey’s is led by Gov. Chris Christie, who supports Trump.
We will see whether Cruz can replicate his gains in states that do not have Wisconsin’s strong, cohesive conservative movement, or whether he caught lightning in a bottle.