For weeks now, the pressure has been on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to win states and deny Donald Trump precious delegates. The Cruz team can claim their man over-performed, getting more than 50 percent of the vote in Utah, sweeping up all the delegates in Colorado and most in North Dakota, and winning big in Wisconsin. Now, however, the burden shifts to Trump.

Thanks to Trump’s ineptitude and some adept expectations game, it’s no longer sufficient for Trump to win New York. His home state will certainly go his way, but the Cruz team has set the bar at more than 50 percent. Cruz’s team argues that if Trump can’t cross 50 percent (Cruz is the only one to do that in Utah, North Dakota and Colorado) it will confirm the perception that Trump has lost a step. Moreover, failure to sweep the New York delegates seriously narrows the task of getting to 1,237. As The Post reports:

That Trump tops 50 percent is key. If Trump gets 50 percent of the vote in the primary, he gets all of the state’s at-large delegates, and three delegates in each congressional district that he wins with 50 percent of the vote. If he’s below 50 percent, statewide or in the congressional districts, he splits the delegates, too. And for a guy scrambling to hit the 1,237-delegate mark to clinch the nomination, that counts. It’s why he canceled plans to campaign in California so that he could hold down the fort at home.

Several polls do have him clearing the 50 percent bar, but it is noteworthy Trump stayed off the Sunday shows and is sticking to low-risk mass rallies. He cannot afford yet another damaging gaffe. (His organization ineptitude however continues to plague him: It turns out his kids are not registered Republican to vote in New York. No, seriously.)

Cruz’s campaign will surely claim it is no big deal if Trump wins New York (even by 50 percent) but even a mammoth margin will get painted as a loss it Trump stays below 50 percent — anywhere.

Beyond New York, the Northeast primary (Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut and Maryland) looms on April 26. Cruz’s team thinks in the proportional states (Connecticut and Rhode Island) they can shave off some delegates. Likewise in Maryland, where 24 delegates are available at the congressional district level, Cruz has another chance to pick off delegates. Anytime he wins delegates, Cruz’s team will claim victory in denying Trump his 1,237. In short, Cruz is successfully putting the pressure on Trump to win everything. But actually Trump has to do more than win on April 26.

Pennsylvania is winner take-all, although the slate is unbound. That means that once again Cruz can win delegates even if he comes up short at the ballot box on April 26. Salena Zito reports:

“We are working every day to expand our team by reaching out to all of the delegates,” [Cruz] told the Tribune-Review before meeting with more than 60 of the 162 people running for 54 delegate slots.
If the Republican presidential nomination goes to an open convention in Cleveland in July, Pennsylvania’s uncommitted delegates will be essential because they can vote any way they wish on the first ballot — and the second, the third and so on. . . . Cruz knows that winning delegates is the only aspect of the primary that counts, and that 54 unbound delegates on the convention floor could be a powerful game changer in Cleveland.

So once again Trump will be under pressure not only to win a neighboring state but also to lock up the delegates; otherwise the 54 delegates do not go into his column.

Cruz no longer talks about getting to 1,237 himself. That is both an arithmetic reality and a strategic shift. If he does not need to win the majority of delegates to “win,” only some delegates to get to the convention, the pressure becomes intense on Trump to start shutting Cruz out. Given the Cruz ground game and the states’ varied delegate rules that is a tall order.

Follow Jennifer Rubin‘s opinionsFollowAdd