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Why Ted Cruz's victory strategy is looking increasingly unlikely

Ted Cruz’s plan is to amass as many supporters among 'unbound' delegates as he can. But the strategy is showing signs of faltering.

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    Members of the audience show their support for Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz in La Porte, Ind., on Sunday.
    Bob Wellinski/The LaPorte Herald-Argus/AP
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Ted Cruz has done a great job with delegates. Not in winning them by popular vote, necessarily – he trails Donald Trump by over 400 delegates directly allocated in state primaries and caucuses. But the Cruz campaign has stealthily stuffed its supporters into unbound delegate slots at every opportunity in states such as North Dakota, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania.

Senator Cruz’s plan is for these forces to spring into action at a contested Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. After all, if a first ballot passes without a candidate reaching a majority of 1,237 votes all bets are off. “Sleeper” Cruz backers serving as pledged Trump delegates will be free to switch their votes. Out of the chaos a certain senator from Texas may emerge as the GOP’s best hope.

That scenario is looking increasingly unlikely, however, for a number of reasons.

One is that Mr. Trump may be on track to win outright. An NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released over the weekend has Trump leading Cruz in Indiana by 15 percentage points. That’s a big deal – if Trump sweeps Tuesday’s Indiana primary and its 57 delegates, he’s almost certain to reach the promised land of 1,237 before the GOP convention opens.

But another is that some of the Cruz delegates may be wavering. It turns out that – surprise! – they are individuals, not part of a solid bloc controlled by the Cruz campaign. They’re not sure they want to vote against a candidate who will enter the convention far ahead in votes and states won, even if he (Trump) doesn’t have enough delegates to win on the first ballot.

That’s what a number of new media reports indicate, in any case. The New York Times has a long piece out today on the subject, reporting that of 54 unbound Pennsylvania delegates, only three are now solid for Cruz. And the right-leaning National Review polled 10 North Dakota delegates elected on a Cruz slate. Five now express “serious reservations” about backing Cruz on a first convention ballot.

“With Trump on a winning streak that’s seen his popularity and electoral success continue to grow past the long-assumed ‘ceiling’ of 35 to 40 percent of the Republican electorate, many North Dakota delegates who privately support Cruz are rethinking the wisdom of challenging the real-estate mogul’s commanding lead on the convention floor,” writes the National Review’s Brendan Bordelon.

This highlights a long-obvious flaw in the plan of #NeverTrump forces: a contested convention could appear to be anti-democratic.

Yes, the GOP rules are the rules, and have been so for hundreds of years. A plurality alone does not entitle a candidate to the nomination. Abraham Lincoln was far from the front-runner at the GOP convention of 1860.

But that was 156 years ago. Norms change. In 2016, an open convention would not be brokered, in the sense of power brokers negotiating a nominee in a non-smoky room filled with half-empty water bottles. It would be contested, with candidates appealing directly to individual delegates.

And it may be that the delegates are more mindful of voting results than Cruz or John Kasich, whose ambitions are at stake. They could be swayed by polls that show a majority of GOP respondents think the candidate who enters the convention with the most delegates should win, period.

Writes Allahpundit of the right-leaning Hot Air blog: “This is what it looks like when the last resistance to a presumptive nominee finally begins to collapse,” 

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