Just when you thought all the drama had fizzed out of the 2016 contest, Wisconsin decided to give both races a good shake. Cheesehead voters swept Bernie Sanders to his sixth straight win over Hillary Clinton, and gave Ted Cruz the pleasure of trouncing Donald Trump.
Throwing lifelines to the underdogs — and dead weight to the frontrunners — the results from Wisconsin have deeper implications, for both momentum and the math.
Here’s what you need to know.
How did Cruz do it?
The key thing to understand about Wisconsin is that it’s a lot like Michigan: an open primary in the industrial Midwest (where John Kasich is not the sitting governor).
For all the Sturm und Drang of the campaign in the last weeks — the nasty tabloid fight between Trump and Cruz over their wives, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski getting booked for battery, Trump flip-flopping over whether women should be punished for getting an abortion — Trump ended up taking home about 35 percent of the vote in Wisconsin. That’s within a whisker of his winning result in Michigan, at 36.5 percent. In other words, Trump turned out his people.
What’s different in the Wisconsin result is that the anti-Trump has finally been anointed: It’s Cruz. In Michigan a month ago, Cruz and Ohio Gov. Kasich clawed to a draw, each splitting about 25 percent of the vote, with a straggling Marco Rubio garnering nearly 10 percent. With the anti-Trump vote split three ways, the Donald had a clear path to victory.
In Wisconsin, Rubio was gone and Kasich could only scrape together 14 percent. Though many in the party viscerally loathe him, Cruz is now seen as the GOP’s last best chance of derailing the Trump Train. A full 58 percent of GOP primary voters told exit pollsters they were “concerned” or “scared” about what Trump might do as president.
With the backing of Gov. Scott Walker, Cruz picked up just shy of half the vote — and made it look easy. He won nearly every demographic in the exit polls, losing badly to Trump only among self-described moderates.
Another key factor in Wisconsin? The state has a relatively small Latino population, and Trump’s signature immigrant bashing doesn’t play well: 61 percent of Wisconsin GOP primary voters endorse a path to legal status. More than half of them voted for Cruz.
How did Trump take the loss?
Not well. A statement released by Trump’s campaign accused “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” of illicitly coordinating with Cruz’s super PAC backers “who totally control him.” The statement continued:
“Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet — he’s a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump.”
Is Wisconsin Trump’s Waterloo?
Let’s not oversell it. The mainstream GOP consolidation behind Cruz is a couple months late; Cruz has no shot at securing the nomination outright. But his victory in Wisconsin does allow the #NeverTrump coalition to fight another day — and it dramatically increases the chances that Trump will enter the convention in Cleveland this summer shy of the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination on the first ballot.
Even so, Chaos in Cleveland is not yet a foregone conclusion. As the delegate-counting maven who goes by @Taniel on Twitter put it, “Trump’s big loss in WI doesn’t shut down road to 1237, but removes margin of error. Now needs big wins in NY/CA/CT & wins in NJ/DE/MD/PA/IN.”
Anything else I need to know?
Ted Cruz is still not the Zodiac Killer. (Probably.) But 37 percent of Wisconsin GOP voters said they’re scared or concerned about what he’d do as president; 13 percent voted for him anyway.
The Sanders hot streak is still alive?
Yes, as are Bernie’s (very, very) slender hopes of overtaking Clinton in the battle for pledged delegates. Bernie’s sixth consecutive victory was one of his most impressive of the campaign, toppling the frontrunner by 13 points, 56-to-43.
What was the key to victory?
Much like in his Michigan win, independent voters in the open primary made the difference for Sanders. Indies comprised 27 percent of the Democratic primary electorate, and Sanders won them in a landslide: 72-to-28. But unlike Michigan, where Clinton won among Democrats (58-to-40), in Wisconsin Sanders and Clinton split Democrats 50-50. This is explained, in part, by demographics: Non-white voters made up 30 percent of the Democratic primary electorate in Michigan, but just 17 percent in Wisconsin. (Clinton took the Wisconsin black vote by a familiar 69-to-31.)
Were there any surprises?
Unlike in past primaries where Clinton has done better among affluent voters, Bernie took every income bracket in Wisconsin — including voters with family income up to $199,999. In addition, Sanders edged out Clinton among women voters (50-to-49). The issue terrain was also odd in Wisconsin — particularly on the contentious issue of trade. Sanders won over 60 percent of voters who believe trade destroys U.S. jobs and 55 percent of those who believe it creates U.S. jobs.
Give it to me straight: Is Bernie still in this thing?
Barely. As impressive as Sanders’ victory was in Wisconsin, he’ll need to average a repeat performance in every contest left — including very challenging terrain in places like Puerto Rico — to have a chance at the lead in earned delegates.
Where do we go from here?
After being humbled of late by Sanders’ ragtag revolution, Clinton will have her best chance to strike back in the Empire State. New York votes on Tuesday, April 19th.