If Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) prevails in Wisconsin's Republican presidential primary, as every poll in the past week has suggested he will, data analysts might point to the reasons that Donald Trump was never going to win. Those focused on momentum and messaging might look to March 24, when Cruz pointed into an ABC News camera and called Trump a "sniveling coward" for retweeting an unflattering photo of his wife, Heidi Cruz.
Even before Wisconsin — before the tweets, the abortion gaffe, the latest skirmish in Fields v. Lewandowski — Trump's presidential campaign was heading for a gender gap. In Illinois, Trump defeated Cruz by 13 points among men and just four points among women. In Michigan, it was even starker — Cruz ran third among women, but tied them against Trump.
But after March 24, Cruz's campaign happily provided more access to the candidate's wife. A New Jersey campaign swing was replaced by a multi-city retail tour, Heidi Cruz alongside Carly Fiorina, with universally sparkly news coverage. No candidate since Fiorina had been in a particularly strong position to benefit from Trump's random bursts of misogyny, but Trump accidentally gave that position to the Cruzes.
Last week, when Fiorina appeared with Ted Cruz in Wisconsin, she attacked Trump for going after Cruz's wife and defended the senator when a reporter asked about a National Enquirer report that alleged Cruz may have engaged in extramarital affairs. Cruz has vigorously denied the report.
"If I may," Fiorina interjected when a Daily Mail reporter asked Cruz on Monday if he would definitively say that he has never been unfaithful to his wife.
"I'm going to comment," Fiorina said after the reporter insisted on hearing from Cruz. "We are talking about a scurrilous, ridiculous piece in the National Enquirer. Why do you all dance to Donald Trump's tune?" she asked. Cruz has accused Trump of being behind the story. Trump has denied having any connection.
At a Monday evening stop at a restaurant in Oshkosh, Wis., Fiorina accused Trump of attacking Heidi Cruz at a time when crises are unfolding around the world.
"In the last week, we had a major terrorist attack in Brussels, we had President Obama in Cuba going to a baseball game with the Castro brothers, we had a shooting today on Capitol Hill, and Donald Trump has spent his week attacking Heidi Cruz.
As far as I am concerned, that says everything you need to know about Donald Trump," she said.
When asked at a Tuesday CNN town hall meeting what he planned to do to persuade women to vote for him, Cruz struck a deeply personal note, talking about his mother, his wife and his two daughters.
"When you're married to a strong woman professional, you see the nonsense that women deal with in the business environment. You see the garbage they put up with. And, it makes you mad. I've been blessed my whole life to be surrounded by strong women," he said.
Cruz explained that his mother became the "first person in her family ever to go to college. And, that was not easy for her because my grandfather, her dad, he was not an easy man. He was a drunk, and he didn't think women should be educated," Cruz said.
Cruz proudly said his mother ended up working as a computer programmer at Shell.
"Now, you want to talk about two industries, computer science and oil and gas, neither one of which were welcoming to women, and my mom was at the intersection of them both," he said.
Cruz argued that Democrats "love to put everyone in a little pigeon hole, and so this is a woman's issue, this is a Hispanic issue, this is an African American issue." He added: "I believe every issue is a women's issue, and the focus of my campaign is on three things. It's on jobs, freedom and security."
If that wasn't enough, Cruz gathered his wife, mother, daughters and — again — Fiorina for a March 30 town hall meeting in media-friendly Madison, Wis. The candidate sat for the better part of an hour without speaking, prodding his mother to tell her life story, otherwise letting Rebecca Hagelin, leader of the month-old Women for Cruz coalition, push along the conversation.
Trump, whose wife, Melania Trump, is scheduled to campaign for him in Wisconsin on Monday, has already been written off by some Wisconsin observers. In an interview with the National Review, Wisconsin grass-roots activist Matt Batzel said that a "perfect storm" had slowed down Donald Trump — a storm that included factors that would not be present in the rest of April's East Coast primaries, such as the anti-Trump ardor of Milwaukee-area talk radio.
But if the gender gap becomes a story in Wisconsin, Trump will enter New York — which will vote next — well ahead in delegates but battling on an issue that seems to wrap him around the axle.