April 17, 2016
Last Sunday we took a look at the #NeverTrump crowd. The question was if they really meant it. Was it #NeverTrump, or let’s try to stop Trump, and hey if we could avoid Cruz too, that might be really great?
The anti-Trump forces rallied behind Cruz in Utah. Simple choice. With the support of popular Senator Mike Lee, and the absence of Marco Rubio, Cruz was the consensus choice there. It was a caucus. Whether or not they did anything, Ted was likely to win.
By participating, they could increase the odds Cruz would break 50%, denying Trump any delegates. Any operatives involved in the effort could show their investors they got results. All of the various #NeverTrump factions and motivations were aligned. Cruz was supposed to do well there anyway. Helping him win wouldn’t make him an unstoppable nominee.
Think of Utah as a trial run for Wisconsin. The stakes were higher. A Trump victory would give him better than even odds to reach 1237. A Cruz defeat would leave an ineffectual John Kasich as the only remaining alternative. Ted was showing signs of life in the polls, and Governor Walker was prepared to endorse him.
Once again, interests were aligned. Walker’s statewide organization, combined with several prominent #NeverTrump radio talk personalities, lots of PAC money, and a few Trump missteps, combined to produce a win. The operatives could claim another win. Investor money was well spent. Trump was now viewed as far less than 50/50 to get to 1237 delegates by the end of primary voting.
No hard decisions were confronted. Nobody had to ask themselves how much they cared about who other than Trump was the nominee. Nobody needed to explain to contributors why millions in advertising weren’t enough to defeat The Donald. After months of flailing, perhaps the establishment really was striking back.
This past week was the moment of truth. We have an answer. #NeverTrump isn’t. They are not spending money in New York. They are not spending money in the April 26 states. They’re waiting. What for? Probably Indiana on May 3.
Reminder: #NeverTrump is nowhere near as well organized as I’m making it sound. The hashtag covers multiple anti-Trump PACs, the diverse community of anti-Trump pundits and opinion leaders, several large donors, and assorted establishment figures.
Not only are they sometimes on different pages, but if they were capable of agreeing enough to push forward a coherent anti-Trump agenda, he wouldn’t find himself leading the pack by such a large distance at the moment. If there’s a Great Establishment Conspiracy, they’re doing a great job of hiding it. Perhaps the desire is there, but the execution is another thing.
Just because this isn’t a couple people in a smoke-filled room doesn’t mean no organic coordination whatsoever. Action creates action. Utah and Wisconsin were a combination of urgency and opportunity, without downside. #NeverTrump is concluding these elements do not exist in New York.
They showed zero urgency. Trump was in relative isolation last weekend, skipping all Sunday shows for the first time in months. This left more oxygen than normal for his opponents. They passed. Cruz is racking up delegates at state conventions in places like Colorado and Wyoming.
He’s talking about how he keeps defeating Trump, and does have a neat little winning streak. The problem is he would have won these states anyway if they were primaries or (especially) caucuses. They’re Cruz states. It’s not like he grabbed all the delegates in Rhode Island through this approach.
Just because Cruz says he’s winning now and just because the media is suggesting we’re headed for a contested convention does not mean Cruz has this locked up. However, it is influencing some #NeverTrumpers.
They’re miscalculating the relative strength of the candidates. Instead of worrying about Trump locking up the nomination, some are now fearing Cruz is becoming an automatic second ballot choice. He’s not there yet. Even if he was, being a second ballot choice only works if nobody wins on the first.
A true #NeverTrump movement would not care how well Cruz is doing, and would welcome the thought a majority of delegates could rally around him as soon as a second ballot. They would have spent heavily in New York. It looks like Trump is currently in the low 50s. If this holds on Election Day, he’ll win the vast majority of delegates.
Dropping him to the upper 40s would deny him a few statewide delegates and insure he shared at least one of the three delegates from many of the congressional districts. If you need 50% to sweep the delegates in a district and are under 50% statewide, you didn’t break 50% in the majority of districts.
Spending a couple/few million dollars a point to bring Trump from 54% to 47% might seem like good money thrown after bad, but the potential delegate impact was as big as Wisconsin. The Trump campaign was already in turmoil, having added Paul Manafort and now Rick Wiley as rivals to the existing architecture led by Corey Lewandowski.
Team Trump was already feeling pressure on the delegate side. By failing to invest in attacking The Donald on his home turf, the regular vote getting part of the operation was left unharmed. Things are shaky enough that the campaign is no longer making an employee directory available to staffers. This was the time to attack. They passed.
Trump has taken advantage of the break in attacks to focus entirely on process complaints. Cruz is spending his time refuting Trump’s charges about the delegate system, rather than winning over wary GOP voters. A strong hit campaign on the order we suggested last week, and Trump would have upped the ante in response.
Whether by making Cruz look reasonable by comparison, or by making more moderate voters turn to Kasich for some amount of sanity, it would have strengthened the alternatives. Instead, the big news on the week was Paul Ryan firmly removing himself from consideration.
The lack of investment matches a depression over the unavailability of a preferred savior, rather than the resolve to defeat Trump at every turn. This isn’t just a matter of keeping Trump below 1237 delegates. At 1200, he only needs to convert a few unpledged delegates. At 1080, the gap is virtually impossible to close without co-opting Kasich or Rubio.
Cruz isn’t getting the space he needs to build a case for himself. If #NeverTrump wanted to defeat The Donald and make it as easy as possible to pull the party together for fall, they would want Cruz to get as close as possible in the delegate count, and improve his overall standing so that he’s regularly leading Hillary Clinton in polls.
At the moment they are roughly tied, with Clinton having a slight advantage nationally and Cruz a thin edge in several key swing states. With Bernie raising the heat on the Democratic side, if Cruz could use a spiraling out of control Trump as a foil, it’s not hard to see how he would pick up a couple points on the unpopular Hillary. Not enough to guarantee victory, but enough to show he has a shot in the fall.
If you combine keeping Trump near 1100 delegates, with Cruz improving in national and key state surveys, with Cruz’s potential delegate strength on a second or third ballot, you have a recipe for turning Ted into a credible nominee.
Again, that results in Cruz as the nominee. Not Kasich, not Ryan, not some General to be named later. There simply aren’t enough #NeverTrump operatives and donors who are ok with this scenario yet. Some will only take Cruz if failing to guarantees Trump.
They’ve let The Donald off the hook again. Heading into Indiana, with experts projecting Trump’s over/under at 1210 delegates or more, #NeverTrump will suddenly find motivation. This is a dangerous strategy. Either these guys are really dumb, or they don’t think there’s that much difference between Trump and Cruz.
#HopefullyNotCruz isn’t a catchy slogan, but it is current reality. Perhaps the participants should picture Trump winning on a first ballot and reconsider abandoning #NeverTrump. Should he get the nomination and implode in the fall, taking their precious senators, representatives, and other down ballot candidates with him, they’ll only have themselves to blame.
If you’re wondering why Ryan doesn’t want to play with them and is instead creating his own platform for the fall campaign, it’s because he’s not suicidal.