But over the past year, the state’s Republican landscape has shifted. Last March, when conservative Gov. Mike Pence signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law, the once-lockstep Republican coalition here fractured, putting daylight between the state’s social conservatives, who backed Pence, from the fiscal conservatives, who have become squeamish over divisive social issues—and who long for the days when the state was ruled by pragmatic, coalition-building Republican Mitch Daniels.
Today, vast swaths of the state’s Republican electorate, from Indianapolis to West Lafayette, have retreated from the culture wars. And like the 50s-era diner itself, Cruz’s dogged socially conservative message seems anachronistic—and perhaps a little tin-eared—to these fiscally conservative, socially liberal Republicans, the kind Cruz has to win over in the state’s crucial, populous and well-heeled “doughnut” counties surrounding Indianapolis (if you remove Marion County, the remaining surrounding counties form a doughnut-shaped ring) in order to have a shot at beating Donald Trump in the primary on Tuesday.
Cruz might have thought that he didn’t need to appeal to this section of the electorate—that it would be enough to preach to the choir of Pence’s base, but his 15-point deficit in the polls shows that he might have made a fatal miscalculation.