WASHINGTON -- Ted Cruz stepped up to the microphones at a press conference on Tuesday, hours before the polls closed in Indiana, and absolutely unloaded on Donald Trump.
Cruz called the celebrity real estate mogul, who appears to have a solid lock on the Republican presidential nomination following his large victory in the Hoosier state primary, the "biggest narcissist," a "serial philanderer, and a "pathological liar." Citing Trump's attacks against his wife and his father, Cruz fumed, "Morality doesn't exist for him."
The verbal assault at a campaign stop in Indiana was Cruz's sharpest against Trump in nearly a year of campaigning. But as residents of the Hoosier state went to the polls to decide a contest that is seen as the last hope of stopping Trump, many wondered what took Cruz so long to stand up to the man who so savagely dispensed with nearly every candidate in the race.
Steve Deace, a popular conservative radio host in Iowa who had endorsed Cruz, admitted as much. "Should've been said weeks if not months ago," he wrote on Twitter.
Trump hit back in a campaign statement, saying Cruz was "unhinged" and calling him "a desperate candidate trying to save his failing campaign."
Indeed, many of Cruz's tactics ahead of the Indiana primary smacked of desperation -- and foreshadowed his withdrawal from the nomination race Tuesday night after Trump won the state.
Trump's dominating performance in the New York GOP primary prompted the Cruz campaign to take drastic measures in hopes of shaking up the race and wresting the media narrative away from their main rival.
The master plan? A quixotic and badly executed alliance with Ohio Gov. John Kasich to divide time and resources in upcoming primaries between their respective campaigns. Cruz would focus on winning in Indiana, while Kasich would focus on winning in New Mexico and Oregon. The plan fell apart less than 24 hours after it was announced, however, after Kasich told reporters that Indiana voters should still vote for him — even if his campaign had planned on focusing on other primaries. The scheme fell right into the lap of Trump, who for weeks has been accusing the GOP of "rigging" the delegate process in order to deny him the nomination despite his many victories.
The voters, of course, saw through the cynical ploy. Per the latest NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, 70 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners were either uncomfortable or angry with the deal. Some Kasich supporters, in particular, were not happy with their candidate.
“I felt pretty insulted as a previous Kasich supporter,” said one Indiana resident. “It was a little bit of a scam, not an honorable thing to do.”
A sweep of five more primary contests across the Northeast the following week -- including a better than expected performance claiming unbound delegates in Pennsylvania -- threw the Cruz campaign into further disarray.
In yet another bid to wrest the news cycle from Trump, Cruz decided to play the ace up his sleeve and announce his vice presidential nominee (despite the fact that he was nowhere near to winning the nomination on the first ballot). His choice? Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, a failed Senate candidate and failed Republican presidential candidate who is nearly as disliked as her running mate among the GOP base.
Fiorina, an able debater, was supposed to be Trump's Kryptonite. She could, the thinking went, goad the brash mogul into saying something negative about women. But in the end, Trump shrugged her off. So, too, did Republican voters. A Morning Consult poll, conducted in the days following Cruz's announcement, found that Fiorina's addition to the ticket caused 25 percent of Republican voters to say they are more likely to vote for him, while 24 percent said they are less likely to vote for him.
Cruz's only remaining hand to play was that of the culture warrior. The Texas conservative attacked Trump relentlessly over his stance on the brewing transgender fight, after states like North Carolina and Mississippi passed laws allowing people to discriminate against LGBT persons. Trump said lawmakers ought to leave the issue alone, and that people ought to be able to use whatever bathroom they like. Cruz, however, cast the issue in an entirely different light. He accused Trump repeatedly of saying that "grown men should be allowed to use the little girls’ restroom.”
Indiana is no Iowa, however. The pitch fell flat in the Hoosier state, which does not boast as many socially conservative evangelical voters that initially propelled Cruz to victory in January. In the end, Trump's populist message resonated better with the state's blue collar voters.