INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Hours before the Cruz campaign's election-night event, the buzz was that Ted Cruz would deliver "somber" remarks. "Somber" became the word of the moment as people who were inside the Cruz structure, but not high-up enough to know what was going on, tried to figure out what would happen.
The room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel slowly filled with Cruz volunteers, many of whom had come to Indiana from out of state because they believed strongly in Cruz. Some came thinking Cruz would win the primary. Even those who worried he would lose Indiana were sure he would vow to fight on to the convention.
But there were clues that Cruz had decided otherwise. A lot of Cruz staff, who normally worked at headquarters in Houston and who rarely if ever traveled with him, were there in Indianapolis. Why would so many travel for this particular event?
Before Cruz spoke, aides placed two teleprompter panels in front of the podium. A teleprompter for Ted Cruz, the best extemporaneous speaker in the Republican Party, the man who never even took notes with him when he rose to deliver a speech? Something was up.
Then, when Cruz finally took the stage, he had with him not just his wife Heidi and children Catherine and Caroline, not just recently-chosen running mate and Indiana buddy Carly Fiorina, and not just father Rafael Cruz. Cruz's mother Eleanor Darragh, who has taken an active behind-the-scenes role in the campaign but almost never appeared on stage, was there. And then there was Cruz's cousin Bibi, with whom he is close, and her husband, all onstage. Something was up.
All that — aides who traveled to Indianapolis, a family gathered — suggested Cruz did not make a spur-of-the-moment decision to quit, that it had in fact been something he saw coming and contemplated for days. And on Tuesday night, he did it.
Some aides tried to talk him out of it. They argued that even if Donald Trump won Indiana — little did they know how big it would be — Trump would still have to win a lot of states before he could go to the Republican convention in Cleveland a winner. There was still time, and money, too, for Cruz to keep Trump below the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. To no avail; Cruz had made up his mind.
Figuring out that Cruz had decided before Tuesday night also cast his "meltdown" Tuesday morning in a different light. At a supposedly routine appearance at a restaurant in Evansville, Indiana, Cruz said he would do something he had never done before in the campaign: tell what he really thought about Trump. Then he proceeded to rip Trump up and down and then up and down again. Cruz called Trump a "pathological liar," a "serial philanderer," a "narcissist," and much, much more.
Some observers suggested Cruz just went off after the latest indignity of the campaign, when Trump, referring to a National Enquirer story, suggested Rafael Cruz had somehow been involved with Lee Harvey Oswald, assassin of John F. Kennedy. That no doubt played a part in Ted Cruz's anger. But in light of the fact that Cruz already knew he was going to quit, the rant seemed more an example of a man with a lot to get off his chest, and an opportunity to do it.
Trump absolutely crushed Cruz in Indiana. With 98 percent of the votes reported, Trump had 53.3 percent to Cruz's 36.6 percent and John Kasich's 7.6 percent. Put Cruz's total together with Kasich's, and Trump beat them both, which pretty much demolished the idea that Trump could be taken down if only Cruz had a one-on-one shot at him.
Trump beat Cruz in almost every group. All ages. All incomes. (Trump absolutely killed in the mid-to-upper brackets, winning 60 percent of the vote of those with incomes between $100,000 and $199,999.) College graduates. Non-college graduates. Very conservative, somewhat conservative, and moderates. Evangelicals. Non-evangelicals. Everybody.
It's always hard for a campaign to break really terrible news to its most devoted followers. So Cruz tried to soften the blow on everyone who had come to the Crowne Plaza Tuesday night. The big TVs in the room played CNN for a while. But then, about ten minutes before 7:00 p.m., when the polls would close and the race would be called for Trump, the TVs began showing a Cruz campaign video, and after that a Ted Cruz jobs-freedom-security graphic. Of course people following Twitter or some other social media knew when the networks announced Trump's victory, but at least nobody had to listen to it.
Worse news was coming. As the evening began, there had been buzz around the edges of the campaign that Cruz might pull out. But to many observers, it didn't seem to make much sense. Why would he do so now? He was the last man standing in the attempt to stop Trump at the convention, and as such had the support of a lot of other Republicans who wouldn't otherwise choose Cruz.
People were looking for clues when Fiorina took the stage before Cruz. For a moment she sounded elegiac, her words worrisome: "We came together as fellow warriors, warriors with a cause," she said. Then Fiorina added, "And that cause continues — " and everyone cheered and let out a sigh of relief. The campaign would go on. They cheered again a few minutes later when Fiorina said, "And so, fellow citizens, as we fight on for the nation we hold dear — "
Then came Cruz. "From the beginning, I've said that I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory," he said. "Tonight, I'm sorry to say it appears that path has been foreclosed." People began yelling "No! No! No!" but Cruz announced that "with a heavy heart...we are suspending our campaign."
"We're just heartbroken," said Sue Larimer, a Cruz volunteer from Perrysburg, Ohio. "Stunned. What else can you say? This was not expected. A lot of us were already making plans to go to California."
"I'm very shocked," said Jennifer Quillen, a volunteer from Logan, Utah who came to Indiana a week ago. I asked what she had done for the campaign. "Five thousand calls," she answered, tearing up.
"I'm depressed," said Dave Folkins, a volunteer from Atlanta. "I'm very saddened. I just can't imagine Donald Trump in the White House. I just can't."
Several volunteers noted that Cruz is a young man who could still have a bright future running for president. In the relatively brief time they have known him, they came to deeply respect Cruz, mostly for what they saw as his religious faith and his devotion to the Constitution. They want to see him return.
Just a few hours before the polls closed, I was standing on a corner in downtown Indianapolis doing a brief live interview on Fox. Beforehand, a man who said he was a conservative Republican came up to say hello and talk politics. I asked him whether he had voted. He said he had. Well? I asked. He said he voted for the candidate who would most steadfastly uphold the Tenth Amendment, the Second Amendment, and the rule of law. I thought he was about to say he voted for Cruz. It turned out he voted for Trump.
That's the kind of surprise that came often in this campaign. No one could predict anything. Ted Cruz and his supporters made a plan based on one set of assumptions, only to discover that everything changed mid-course. Through it all, the voters' minds proved maddeningly difficult to read, as Cruz tacitly acknowledged Tuesday night.
"Together, we left it all on the field in Indiana," Cruz said. "We gave it everything we've got. But the voters chose another path."