Donald Trump did not take his Wisconsin loss quietly.
True, he stayed off television on a primary night -- which was striking, given how he is so much a part of our daily media diet.
But with his written blast at Ted Cruz, who beat him by 13 points, Trump made clear he is sticking with his street-fighting style heading into New York and other more favorable eastern states.
Gone, for the moment, was talk about Trump giving several sober policy speeches. In its place was the opening salvo against the man he calls “Lyin’ Ted.”
In winning Wisconsin, the statement said, Cruz “was coordinating with his own Super PAC’s (which is illegal) who totally control him. Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet—he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump.”
First, if Trump has proof that the Cruz campaign is breaking the law, he should provide it; that’s a pretty serious charge.
Second, a Trojan horse suggests some kind of secret invasion. Cruz’s relationship with the party elite is more like a dysfunctional marriage of convenience. Its members don’t much like him, but are openly aligning with him—from Mitt Romney to Lindsey Graham—as a way of stopping Trump.
Spokeswoman Katrina Pierson added that "the Bush people" are running the Cruz campaign, a reference to Neil Bush joining the senator's finance team.
As for “stealing” the nomination from Trump, there is clearly a concerted GOP effort to block him from reaching the magic number of 1,237 and then beat him after the first ballot in Cleveland. Whether that constitutes larceny or an aggressive exploitation of the delegate rules will be the subject of many battles between now and July. But it’s a powerful rhetorical argument for Trump.
If this is a game of momentum, Trump is likely to regain it in such states as New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, at least if he avoids some of the missteps of the last two weeks. A Monmouth poll shows Trump leading his home state of New York with 52 percent, with John Kasich at 25 percent and Cruz at 17.
But if it’s pure delegate math, Wisconsin did make it a bit harder for Trump to win a first-ballot victory—especially since the Cruz camp seems better organized at delegate hunting and caucus turnout.
With a normal candidate, which Trump most definitely is not, the press would be looking for a staff shakeup. But Trump’s inner circle is quite small, and other than adding such players as convention manager Paul Manafort, it's likely to stay that way. Trump is a gut player. He can’t fire his pollster or media consultant or chief fundraiser because he doesn’t have such people. He will declare rhetorical war on Cruz because that’s what got him this far. And he’ll keep on whacking journalists who he thinks are treating him unfairly.
In that vein, Trump actually took a rather subtle shot on Twitter. Politico had run a piece headlined “Trump’s Campaign in Disarray”—almost an obligatory story when a winning candidate falters.
But when the Washington Post reported that Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei and other top executives who clashed with the owners will leave the company soon rather after than after the election, Trump was ready:
“Wow, @Politico is in total disarray with almost everybody quitting. Good news -- bad, dishonest journalists!”
Disarray, it seems, is a charge that can be hurled in both directions.