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Indiana leaves Trump in control as Cruz exits stage right

Ted Cruz needed to win Indiana and didn't. But if you think you've seen the last of him, think again.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a rally at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, May 2, 2016. (Photo by Michael Conroy/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a rally at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, May 2, 2016. 
On April 5, one month ago tomorrow, Ted Cruz easily won the Wisconsin presidential primary, leading the Texas senator to declare that the race for the Republican nomination was on an entirely new trajectory.
Indeed, a month ago, there were certain things much of the political world simply accepted as fact. Everyone knew there would be a contested GOP national convention. Everyone knew Cruz's advantage at state conventions was likely to pay dividends. And everyone knew the Texan was in this for the long haul.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ended his presidential campaign on Tuesday after failing to top Donald Trump in the Indiana Republican primary. "From the beginning, I've said that I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory," Cruz told supporters at an election night rally in Indianapolis. "Tonight, I'm sorry to say it appears that path has been foreclosed."

The senator's campaign went all out to win Indiana -- a state Team Cruz saw as friendly territory, and where polls showed him ahead a month ago -- but he ended up losing by nearly 17 points. Cruz could have turned the next couple of months into some kind of vanity exercise, dragging out the process unnecessarily, but given the arithmetic, the Texan no longer saw the point of waging a fight with a predetermined outcome.
Also note, adding Carly Fiorina to the ticket for a week was not the silver bullet Team Cruz was looking for. The California Republican is now the only candidate to seek national office twice in 2016, only to fail spectacularly both times.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus agreed last night that Trump is now the party's "presumptive" presidential nominee -- a message he couldn't have enjoyed writing -- which seems like the appropriate label. John Kasich's campaign was quick to protest, but the fact remains that the Ohio governor is still trailing Marco Rubio in the overall delegate count, and Rubio quit in mid-March.
Kasich, in other words, is running fourth in a three-man race, which makes it difficult for him to complain about the RNC's embrace of Trump.
We'll talk about Trump's road ahead a little later, but let's first take a moment to consider Cruz as he exits the stage.
On paper, Cruz had no business even trying to run. He's an accidental senator, winning his only election four years ago by prevailing in a mid-summer primary in which turnout was tiny. During his brief tenure as a statewide office-holder, Cruz's most notable accomplishment, aside from shutting down the federal government, has been insulting and alienating pretty much every human being he's come in contact with on Capitol Hill. The senator has earned a reputation for being smug, arrogant, and unlikable to a startling degree.
And yet, despite all of this, Cruz ran in the largest field of presidential candidates in American history, and managed to come in second.
Trump said something that stood out for me last night while celebrating his success: Cruz, Trump said, is "a tough, smart guy" who has "an amazing future."
That's not an outlandish prediction. At 45, Cruz is very young for a national candidate. He's demonstrated an ability to raise a lot of money and build a formidable field operation. He's also brazenly ambitious in a party that has a habit of nominating candidates who came in second the cycle before (see H.W. Bush, Dole, and McCain, for example).
What's more, if Trump loses in the general election, Cruz will simply return to one of the staples of his early stump speech: Republicans only win presidential elections when they nominate real, uncompromising conservatives, and Trump obviously didn't qualify for the label.
We'll learn soon enough what kind of role Cruz envisions for himself in the coming years -- it'll be interesting to watch, for example, whether he continues to antagonize all of his colleagues in both parties -- but he leaves the presidential race having done far better than many predicted.
Love him or hate him, we haven't heard the last of Ted Cruz.