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Ted Cruz's Utah Win Is A Big Deal

When pundits pen retrospectives on successful presidential campaigns, they don't start or end with Utah.

It's an unusual place, with an unusual marriage between church and state that works there, but nowhere else in the country. It would be difficult to argue that Utah is a litmus test for the remaining primary states, or that a win there gives a candidate momentum going forward.

Utah is unique. Utah has fewer than 3 million people. Utah only awards 40 delegates.

And yet Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won a significant victory there in the March 22 Republican primaries. The Texas firebrand picked up all 40 delegates with an impressive 69 percent of the vote.

The win won't propel Cruz to the nomination. It doesn't mean voters elsewhere are changing their minds. And when you add Arizona -- which held its primary the same night -- to the mix, Cruz actually ended the night with a net loss of 18 delegates.

More importantly, it's pretty much impossible for Cruz to earn the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination.

So why is the win a big deal for the Cruz campaign, and why does the Texas senator have a reason to be happy about it?

Small victories add up, and while Cruz knows he won't win the nomination outright, he's smart enough to set realistic expectations and take another possible path to the nomination.

Wins in Iowa, Utah, Wyoming and his home state of Texas give Cruz a reason to keep on, to push through to the end of the primaries and make the argument that Republican front-runner Donald Trump isn't a lock for the nomination, either.

Cruz is trailing the real estate mogul by almost 300 delegates, but it almost doesn't matter. If Cruz and Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich of Ohio can prevent Trump from getting to 1,237 delegates himself, they'll set the table for a brokered convention, where party leaders wearing off-the-rack suits and little flag lapels can convince themselves they're doing right by the people by rejecting their choice and choosing a "proper" candidate.

Of course, that would be hilarious if it wasn't so depressing. Trump may put his foot in his mouth constantly, and he never passes up an opportunity to remind the electorate that he's as un-presidential as Ron Jeremy, but when you compare his rhetoric and policy positions -- nebulous as they are -- to Cruz's, it becomes clear that for all Trump's bluster and lack of polish, he's not nearly as terrifying as the Texas senator.

The difference between Cruz and Trump is that, while Trump has never bothered to consider how he comes across -- and probably never will -- Cruz is adept at hiding his more unsavory political positions and extreme beliefs behind a smile and code words. He's savvy enough to save the most inflammatory stuff for closed-door, $500-a-plate fundraisers, where he can relax and speak his mind among friends and supporters.

So Ted Cruz, who ended March 22 with a net loss of 18 delegates, is probably feeling pretty good about himself right now. All he has to do is stay the course until Republicans converge on Cleveland for their convention in July.

No matter what happens, it will be the convention where the Republican party finally shatters. Nominate Trump, and the coalition of Anybody-But-Trump -- which includes some major money-men and kingmakers -- will secede. Nominate Cruz, and a large part of the base will revolt.

But for Cruz, he just has to get there, and Utah helped him get a few steps closer.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: Real Clear Politics (2), Politico / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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