(Bloomberg) —Despite Ted Cruz’s rallying cry that his double-digit victory in Wisconsin last week would be a “turning point” in the Republican presidential race, scant signs exist that the Texas conservative is gaining steam in critical upcoming contests in the Northeast, where billionaire Donald Trump leads.
The latest polls give Trump leads of 20 or more percentage points in New York, which votes on April 19, and in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Connecticut, which vote on April 26. In each of these states—where Ohio Governor John Kasich places second, ahead of Cruz—no perceivable post-Wisconsin bounce is evident for Cruz.
Although the Northeast was always expected to be tough terrain for Cruz, the murky path ahead highlights the tough task facing the candidate who is aiming to deny Trump a majority of delegates and stop him at a contested convention. The Sen. has often struggled to garner substantial appeal beyond evangelical and very conservative voters, which remains one reason he’s cold comfort to a swath of Republican politicians, donors, and elites who see Trump as an electoral catastrophe for the party but don’t think Cruz would be better.
“Unfortunately, Cruz does not appeal to voters outside of the base at this point and it looks difficult seeing him pivot to appeal to general-election voters. This could lead to another Goldwater scenario,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, referring to the 44-state landslide defeat of conservative nominee Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Fears about “electability” help explain why Cruz still hasn’t emerged as the consensus alternative to Trump among a number Republican elites, even though he’s the only rival who has shown a sustained ability to compete with—and in many states, defeat—Trump and out-organize him behind the scenes in state delegate fights.
“I think [a general-election victory] is really unlikely for Cruz,” said Republican lobbyist and strategist John Feehery. “It’s hard to see how he builds a winning coalition. … I see no upside to a Cruz candidacy and a lot of downside.”
Feehery said he’d prefer to see Trump nominated, giving the businessman better odds of reshaping the electoral map and winning the presidency.
A spokeswoman for Cruz said his campaign would prove critics wrong.
“Those so-called strategists who think we need to elect a moderate or liberal Republican to win are are the same people who have been losing elections for Republicans over and over,” Catherine Frazier said in an e-mail.
Of 10 recent surveys testing Cruz versus Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, seven showed Clinton leading by between 2 and 9 percentage points, two showed the candidates tied, and one showed Cruz winning by 3 points. Trump fared worse against Clinton.
“I think [Cruz] would do better than Trump and worse than a more traditional Republican,” said Ken Goldstein, a politics professor at the University of San Francisco and a polling analyst for Bloomberg Politics. “Republicans are trying to consolidate behind Cruz to beat Trump, but Cruz would by a significant margin still be the most conservative Republican nominee—or the nominee most out of the mainstream—in modern presidential election history.”
A recent Quinnipiac poll found Cruz leading Clinton by 5 percentage points among independents nationwide, but 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney won independents by 5 points and lost the presidential election. Among married women, whom Romney won by 7 points, Cruz is viewed slightly more negatively than Clinton, according to a recent Bloomberg Politics poll.
Whit Ayres, a pollster who advised Marco Rubio’s failed presidential bid, argued in an op-ed assailing Trump’s chances in a general election that winning the popular vote for a Republican candidate requires carrying 30 percent of nonwhites or 65 percent of whites (which he notes is a larger share than Reagan won in his 49-state 1984 re-election landslide).
Against Clinton, Cruz would get 18 percent of nonwhite voters and 51 percent of white voters, according to the Quinnipiac survey.
That survey, contrasted with 2012 exit poll data, shows little indication Cruz would perform better against Clinton than Romney did against President Barack Obama. Cruz under-performs Romney’s showing by 5 percentage points among whites and by 2 points among men. Cruz ties Romney’s showing among voters 65 and older and out-performs Romney by 2 points among women.
“The big force in this country is the changing face of the American electorate. I see little evidence to suggest Cruz will do well with young people, single women, African-Americans or, even though he is one, Latinos,” Goldstein said. “Even if we stipulate that he’s going to do better with white people than Romney did, he can’t do better enough to win. And I’m not even sure he’s going to do better with white people.”
“If Donald Trump didn’t exist and Ted Cruz was in the position that Donald Trump is in, we’d be talking about the Republican establishment coming together to stop Ted Cruz because he’d be a disaster,” he said.