Donald Trump has long been the GOP frontrunner. From his earliest days of pronouncing tough stances on immigration and advancing a call for a robust economic agenda, Trump initially enjoyed a surge in popularity that has baffled almost all pundits and delighted many.
However, that frontrunner status has been repeatedly challenged by the Ted Cruz Campaign and after a series of missteps and wavering on important issues, such as defining his immigration plan as “flexible,” Mr. Trump may find himself peaking at the most crucial time of the Republican primary.
Most pundits have assumed that if there were to be an end to Trump’s meteoric rise, it would come from the billionaire himself. With a tendency to speak boldly without considering the optics of his quips, Trump has been vulnerable to a self-imposed implosion.
However, the challenge for Trump does not come merely from the candidate himself, but from outside Republican operatives who see Trump’s popularity as plateauing.
Trump enjoyed a mixed bag on Saturday as he won Kentucky and Louisiana and Senator Ted Cruz won Maine and Kansas. Since then, signs have emerged that may indicate that the Trump Campaign has peaked.
While on the surface, one could look at Saturday as a 50-50 split, a deeper look into the numbers indicates a trend.
On Friday, Trump enraged countless conservatives by bailing on his commitment to speak at CPAC, the leading conservative conference in the country. Trump snubbed the conference to speak with supporters in Kansas on the eve of the primary that was sure to be a close one.
Still, despite welcoming tremendously bad press, enraging countless voters and signaling a lack of commitment to conservatism, Trump lost Kansas and in Louisiana and Kentucky, the race was much closer than expected.
Trump did win Louisiana; however, the numbers show a more-complex narrative. Trump won with early voters; however, Cruz nearly equaled Trump with voters who cast their votes on Saturday. Trump may have a diehard following, but appears unable to pick-up votes and in the world of primaries, stagnation means death for a candidacy.
“Trump has to worry about the consistent late-voter rejection of his candidacy,” said Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House and Republican presidential candidate.
As Trump’s campaign appears unable to pick-up votes, he further weathers bad press after a vulgar debate performance where he made a thinly-veiled insinuation about Senator Marco Rubio’s penis size.
As the Republican candidates look to Florida, outside Republican groups are deploying $10 million in anti-Trump ads across the state and millions more in Illinois.
If Trump cannot secure victory in Florida, his campaign will be in significant trouble as Cruz could pick-up the 99 delegates in the winner-take-all primary. Rubio is banking on the Florida primary as a means of robbing any candidate of a majority of delegates and causing a brokered convention where the establishment politician hopes to wheel and deal to secure a victory.
Rubio is counting on a Florida win to put him back in the race, but the state is very much up for grabs.
Stats show that Cruz performs significantly better in closed primary races- meaning that in states where only Republicans are allowed to vote in Republican primaries, Cruz often bests Trump.
Florida is a closed primary state and a winner-take-all state which affords the winner all 99 delegates.
Trump is far from out of the race and it is still an uphill climb for Cruz, but cracks in Trump’s campaign are definitely starting to show. While he enjoys a significant following, it appears that Trump is unable to court additional voters at a time when voters are up for grabs while the race narrows and candidates drop-out.