I just finished reading Craig Shirley's book about the 1976 election, it's definitely worth the read (and I'm certain plenty of people in both the Cruz and Trump campaigns are reading it now). I don't want to be viewed as being negative on Ted Cruz's chances because I'm not, but I will have to say I am worried about them. Indiana and California hold the key. I think if he can win Indiana and then have a few good showings, he can then do well enough to keep Trump from 1,237 or even 1,200 (I think that will be important for the same reason as products are priced at 9.99. Framing matters). But he got killed in New York. Crushed. I mean really worse than I could have imagined given he was a weak third to a candidate with no money, Kasich.
Anyway, all this got me thinking about the possibility that Ted Cruz will lose. But even if he does, that doesn't mean we've lost forever. Just as 1976 wasn't the end of Reagan, 2016 won't be the end of Ted Cruz.
1976 was a year when Reagan was running as an outsider versus an incumbent Republican President. Just think about that for a moment. Think about the balls it took to commit yourself to do that and to go against the Republican Party itself, all in the name of freedom. People who you would never think would go against Reagan, like Dick Cheney or the Mississippi delegation, ended up working for the other side (along with the people you would expect, like that rat bastard Jim Baker). Reagan was as anathema to the establishment as Ted Cruz is today. The arguments were also the same. The Republican Party is dead unless it changes and moves to the left (conservatives actually had to fight to get a pro-life plank in the platform!!!). Conservatives are just a bunch of yahoos who can't put one foot in front of the other and are unelectable as general election candidates.
Anyway, in the end, Reagan lost, it was close, but he lost. He lost for a couple of reasons, first, there were definitely some early blunders (like leaving NH early which caused him to have a narrow loss which snowballed into lots of lost momentum) and some missed opportunities by not campaigning in states where he could have won delegates. Second and I think most important, there wasn't any grand unifying idea to get behind. His platform boiled down to, I'm a real conservative and Kissinger's foreign policy is too soft on the Soviet Union. That's great and I would be behind that but it was missing something, that economic message to get people going. It was between 1976 and 1980 that he, with the help of Art Laffer and Jack Kemp, came up with the idea behind the Reagan tax cuts, which was something that people could really rally behind. So between that and also not making the same mistakes as he did in 1976, he won the Presidency handily in 1980.
I think that if Ted Cruz loses now, he will just come back stronger in 2020. First, he will have formed relationships in all 50 states with people that he probably didn't have relationships with before (though he has had an amazing organization for a first timer. Seriously). He will have four years to build on them and solidify a 2020 run. And I think he will be running on a better message. I feel like he wasn't talking about the right things at the beginning of this run. He was running as a social conservative to target the evangelicals and also just kept talking about immigration. Yes a lot of people care about social issues and immigration but they are not the top issues for the masses, the economy is, as evidenced by the fact that a thrice married, illegal immigrant employer was able to win many of the voters Cruz was targeting. I think between March 1st and March 15th, he started to change his message. He became more inclusive (e.g. instead of talking about how he will ban most abortions he started talking about letting voters in the states decide, a much softer position). And he started repeatedly talking about Jobs, Freedom and Security. This is probably how he should have been running from the beginning. His schtick still needs some refinement and maybe a little more focus but he is getting there. By 2020, he should be a much better candidate.
And in 2020, there won't be a Trump, at least not like 2016 Trump. If Trump wins, he will probably be a disaster as President, embarrassing himself and our country while betraying conservatives at the same time. He probably won't even build a wall. Most of those evangelical and conservative voters who voted for him en masse in the South will feel betrayed and will come home and Cruz would have a good shot at ousting him.
If Trump loses in the general, that "winning" persona will be gone and the fever dream for so many will finally break. All the talk of mass crossover voting in the general won't buttress another run by him (my guess he won't run again anyway if he loses now) as it will all have been exposed as a sham.