Senator Cruz’s path to the Republican nomination is looking smaller and smaller as we speed toward the first votes. When I wrote about how Trump could win the nomination, Cruz was leading nearly all the polls in Iowa and beginning to slowly climb in New Hampshire. However, a lot has changed since then.
First and foremost, Trump recognized the threat Cruz represented and moved to halt his momentum. According to the most recent polls, Trump is now projected to win Iowa, a result that would surely diminish Ted Cruz’s chances of being the Republican nominee. So how does Senator Cruz win?
His chances hinge on Iowa. Ted Cruz pretty much must win Iowa in order to go on to win the nomination. A close second probably won’t do unless no other candidate comes close; then, it will likely be seen as a two-man race between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
Turnout among evangelical voters and new voters is essential for Cruz. He needs the former to come out in droves and the latter to stay home. Furthermore, Cruz needs to hope that supporters of other candidates that share his social conservative support will instead decide to caucus for him. These candidates include Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson. Collectively, those three candidates make up about 12.4% of the polling average in Iowa. If they consolidated around Cruz, he would win in a landslide.
After winning Iowa, Cruz will need to grow his support in New Hampshire to collect at least 20% of the vote there. It may not be enough to win, but it would likely be enough to create a story that he is gaining momentum and has relatively strong support, even in a more moderate and secular state such as New Hampshire.
From there, the voting will turn to South Carolina, where Trump is currently leading the field and where Sen. Cruz is in second. Trump’s standing would likely diminish after losing in Iowa, and Cruz should hope that his chief social conservative rivals drop out by this point. Carson, Huckabee, and Santorum make up about 11% of South Carolina’s polling average. If the majority of those voters moved to Cruz, he will have a strong shot of winning the state, particularly if no establishment candidate can claim victory in New Hampshire.
Victories in Iowa and South Carolina, along with a split decision in New Hampshire will fuel Cruz for the later states. Ted Cruz will be strongly positioned for wins in the so-called “SEC primary” on March first. These primaries include those in many southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Cruz’s home state, Texas.
Importantly, all but one of these states (Virginia) has a threshold a candidate must reach in order to win delegates. In some the threshold is 15% and others it is 20%. This means that a candidate like Ben Carson or even Marco Rubio could receive zero delegates if they cannot reach the threshold. That is good news for Cruz (and Trump) who are the only two candidates currently breaking those thresholds.
Like with the scenario for a Trump win, the nomination will likely be a long and drawn out process, possibly leading all the way to the GOP convention. Cruz would need to rack up a majority of the delegates by the SEC primary in order to show that he has the momentum and claim the title of eventual nominee.
His problem, however, is that he is just as despised among the Republican establishment as Donald Trump. Therefore, it is unlikely that all of the establishment candidates such as Rubio or Bush will drop out of the race anytime soon. In order for Cruz to win the nomination, he will need to rack up his delegate count in the more conservative southern states and the ‘bible-belt’ and either hope that breaks 50% or receive a clear plurality by the convention.
As I mentioned at the outset, Cruz’s chances have diminished since two weeks ago. While he still has plenty of money and time, he is faced with the possibility that several candidates will not drop out soon after the first couple primaries, and the nomination will therefore take months to lock up.