INDIANAPOLIS – Texas Sen. Ted Cruz abruptly ended his presidential campaign Tuesday night after falling to Donald Trump in Indiana’s primary, a devastating loss that left him with no viable path to the Republican nomination. Trump, considered a fringe candidate a year ago, now is poised to represent Republicans in the fall presidential campaign.
“I’ve said I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory; tonight I’m sorry to say it appears that path has been foreclosed,” Cruz told a somber crowd in Indianapolis.
Cruz campaigned aggressively in Indiana, but could not overcome Trump. The billionaire businessman has stunned the Republican Party with his appeal to voters deeply frustrated with Washington and their own party’s leaders.
Trump still must win about 200 more delegates to clinch the nomination. But his victory in Indiana — where he picked up at least 45 of the state’s 57 delegates — made it all but impossible for Cruz to block him from doing so.
Before Tuesday’s results, Cruz had vowed to stay in the race through the final primaries in June, clinging to the possibility that Trump would fall short of the 1,237 delegates he needs and the race would go to a contested convention.
Trump now faces pressure to unite a Republican Party that has been roiled by his candidacy. But whether he can accomplish that remains deeply uncertain.
Even before the Indiana results were finalized, some conservative leaders were planning a Wednesday meeting to assess the viability of launching a third party candidacy to compete with Trump in the fall.
One outside group trying to stop Trump suggested it would shift its attention to helping Republicans in other races. Rory Cooper, a senior adviser to the Never Trump super PAC, said the group will help protect “Republican incumbents and down-ballot candidates, by distinguishing their values and principles from that of Trump, and protecting them from a wave election.”
Only about half of Indiana’s Republican primary voters said they were excited or even optimistic about any of their remaining candidates becoming president, according to exit polls. Still, most said they probably would support whoever won for the GOP.
Hillary Clinton, too, needs to win over Bernie Sanders’ enthusiastic supporters. The Vermont senator has cultivated a deeply loyal following in particular among young people, a group Democrats count on in the general election.
Sanders has conceded his strategy hinges on persuading superdelegates to back him over the former secretary of state. Superdelegates are Democratic Party insiders who can support the candidate of their choice, regardless of how their states vote. And they favor Clinton by a nearly 18-1 margin.
Exit polls showed about 7 in 10 Indiana Democrats said they’d be excited or at least optimistic about either a Clinton or Sanders presidency. Most said they would support either in November.
The exit polls were conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.
A fall showdown between Clinton and Trump would pit one of Democrats’ most experienced political figures against a first-time candidate who is deeply divisive within his own party. Cruz and other Republicans have argued that Trump would be roundly defeated in the general election, denying their party the White House for a third straight term.
Trump has now won seven straight primary contests and has 80 percent of the delegates needed to secure the GOP nomination. With his victory in Indiana, Trump now has at least 1,041 delegates. Cruz has 565 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has 152.
Trump’s win over Cruz in Indiana moves him close to being unstoppable in his march to the party’s presidential nomination.
The New York billionaire was quickly projected to be the winner by television networks shortly after polling places closed in the Midwestern state. Trump was on track to take well over 50 percent of the vote, eclipsing Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas. Ohio Gov. John Kasich was running a distant third.
On the Democratic side, Clinton and Sanders were running virtually neck and neck, with Clinton’s early lead eroded as more votes rolled in.
Cruz had been counting on a win in Tuesday’s primary to slow the New York businessman’s progress toward the nomination. But Trump rode momentum from wins in five Northeastern states a week ago into a big lead in Indiana over Cruz, whose brand of Christian conservatism had been expected to have wide appeal in the state.
“Lyin’ Ted Cruz consistently said that he will, and must, win Indiana. If he doesn’t he should drop out of the race-stop wasting time & money,” Trump tweeted ahead of a victory speech he was to deliver at Trump Tower in New York.
At Cruz’s evening event in Indianapolis, there was an air of resignation among some of his supporters.
“I’m definitely disappointed that we couldn’t pull it out for him in Indiana,” said Andrew Coulter.
Coulter, 43, said he had believed Cruz would continue forward, but gave little hope that his candidate would prevail. “I think that it’s at this point Trump is going to win the nomination. I think that this was Cruz’s firewall,” he said.
The loss for Cruz was a sour ending to a rough day in which he got entangled in a harsh back-and-forth with Trump.
It began when the billionaire repeated a claim published by the tabloid newspaper the National Enquirer that linked Cruz’s father, Cuban emigre Rafael Cruz, with President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Campaigning in Evansville, in the state’s southwest corner, Cruz sounded deeply frustrated by the bombastic real estate mogul, who has ripped Cruz at every turn.
“The man cannot tell the truth but he combines it with being a narcissist,” Cruz said, “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.”
Cruz termed Trump a “serial philanderer” — likely as part of his strategy to try to win the support of evangelical voters. Trump, in response, said Cruz had become “more and more unhinged.”
The only hopes that Cruz and Kasich had for becoming the Republican nominee was to somehow deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination outright and force Republicans at their July convention in Cleveland to choose one of them.
Kasich vowed to stay in the race.
“Tonight’s results are not going to alter Gov. Kasich’s campaign plans,” Kasich senior strategist John Weaver said in a campaign memo. “Our strategy has been and continues to be one that involves winning the nomination at an open convention.”