April 25, 2016
After more than a month of denial, Ted Cruz is now official partners with John Kasich. The agreement removes the governor from competition in Indiana (May 3), while the senator vacates Oregon (May 17) and New Mexico (June 7). Now that Cruz has joined Kasich in mathematical elimination from gaining the necessary delegates prior to the convention, he’s suddenly up for collaboration.
Even more important is the real possibility Donald Trump will win Indiana. He leads each of the three polls taken in the past week or so. Both Cruz and Kasich are well aware a Trump victory in the Hoosier State gives him a better than even shot at winning on a first ballot.
Though Kasich concentrating elsewhere hardly guarantees a Cruz win (at best he’s in a dead heat with Trump in a one-on-one contest) in Indiana, his odds improve. This should move every possible #NeverTrump vote to Ted’s column. It’s actually better for Cruz than if Kasich dropped out of the race.
We know there’s a percentage of voters who are firmly #BetterDeadThanTed. If Kasich were out as a candidate, they would either stay home or pick Trump. Now those voters can still choose Kasich. Meanwhile, a percentage of Kasich voters will shift to Cruz. The closest example we have is Ohio.
Marco Rubio told his Ohio voters it was ok to migrate to Kasich to stop Trump. Though he was bleeding support everywhere at that point, he wound up with his worst result of the entire cycle there, while Kasich finished ahead of his final poll numbers, a rare feat for him.
The big variable is how voters respond to the campaigns overtly coordinating. Each made a public statement. They had to. It’s one thing to close offices in a state and cancel advertising. It’s another to actually indicate out loud that your supporters might want to consider another candidate. They couldn’t risk Indiana #NeverTrump voters wondering who to support.
While there was absolutely no choice, they’ve handed The Donald a giant verbal club to beat them with. He’s already seen his poll numbers improve since he began talking about a rigged primary system. Now he can shout from the ramparts that these two losers had to try to gang up because they weren’t tough enough to compete with him on their own.
Before the 1972 reforms that led to the vast majority of first ballot delegates getting selected in primaries and caucuses, it was common for candidates to team up to keep another from winning on an early ballot, hoping they’d come out ahead later on. It’s good old school tactics.
Most voters do not remember such things. The last time a nomination went to multiple convention ballots was 1952. We’re about to find out real soon exactly how open to an open convention Republican voters are. Neither Cruz nor Kasich were doing a good job rallying the #NeverTrump opposition or convincing unsure voters to go their way.
Now Indiana is a referendum. Trump voters will pick him. Most #NeverTrump voters will choose Cruz. The remainder get to decide if this goes to the convention or not. Now that Cruz and Kasich have taken this step, a Trump victory in Indiana accomplishes a couple of things.
First, it puts him on a path to get to 1237 delegates (or at least very close) by the close of primary business on June 7. Second, it encourages uncommitted delegates to help Trump over the finish line if he’s ever so short. If Cruz can’t beat him in Indiana with Kasich out of the way….
This is a start, but it’s not enough. No matter how much collaboration, Trump will hit them with maximum conspiracy charges. It’s also at least a week late. Teaming up for April 26 would have done plenty of good. Cruz has a small edge on Kasich in Pennsylvania. If they’d decided he was the candidate there, perhaps they could have at least made it interesting.
Kasich meanwhile could have threatened in Maryland. In retrospect, both candidates should have skipped New York. The results would have been very similar, but they would have missed the embarrassment of trying and failing to compete. Cruz would have given himself an extra couple/few days in Pennsylvania and Indiana, and wouldn’t have the stench of Empire State failure on him.
The governor would have had three weeks between Wisconsin and April 26 to see what he could do in Maryland, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Trump is ahead by enough in Delaware (a winner-take-all state) to ignore that one.
The candidates won’t get the last three weeks or whatever they spent in New York back, but it’s not too late to help themselves a little on the 26th. No matter what they say or do, they’ll look like desperate, grasping losers until they actually start beating Trump. Might as well at least keep a few delegates from him tomorrow.
They should expressly tell all #NeverTrump voters to pick Cruz in Pennsylvania and Kasich in the other states. Though Trump would likely still win the Keystone State, many of the 54 officially un-pledged delegates have said they’ll vote for the candidate who won their district on the first ballot.
If Kasich abdicates, Cruz can compete in plenty of districts and would get close enough statewide to give delegates a bit more wiggle room if they want to vote for him Cleveland. Over in Maryland, Kasich is likely to win a couple D.C. area congressional districts anyway, but would guarantee it and compete in others if Cruz indicated his voters should pick the governor.
Rhode Island is proportional, so you can see Cruz wanting to hold on to his voters. But he doesn’t have many. A new Brown University poll has him at 14%. A higher than normal percentage of voters declared themselves undecided. Kasich trails Trump by 13 points. If he got a few Cruz voters and got lucky with last minute deciders, he could actually pull an upset.
It wouldn’t change the delegate count much at all, but would really help the narrative. In Connecticut, Trump is right on the 50% line, which like New York would give him all of the statewide delegates. However, Kasich is competitive in a district or two. With Cruz steering voters to him, he’d lock up at least a few delegates.
West Virginia is likely Trump’s on May 10 no matter what they do. Cruz has Nebraska covered on the same day regardless of whether Kasich leaves him alone. But they need to actively figure out how to divide up the rest of the map.
South Dakota and Montana (both on 6/7) are Cruz states. Ted also has a far better chance of making California close, but will need Kasich to spend time in some Bay Area districts. Beating Trump there is difficult. They need to make sure to tag team on the delegates in case he wins statewide. This isn’t Maryland or Connecticut. Plenty of districts are more Cruz-friendly.
New Jersey votes on June 7, just like California. All delegates are assigned to the winner, with no 50% requirement. Trump is very likely to win. There’s no point in wasting resources.
Washington votes May 24. They probably need another tag team. Some of the delegates are statewide, some by congressional district. Cruz is more suited to Eastern Washington, Kasich to Puget Sound. As you can see, solid coordination between the two campaigns could help. Even if they only impact 50 to 70 delegates, that’s very likely the difference between Trump winning on the first ballot and a free-for-all.
It’s going to require logistics and coordination. More than anything, each candidate needs to step up their messaging. There’s a reason Trump has more delegates than Cruz and Kasich combined.
He’s going to get all the media he needs to continue to make his point about how the losers and insiders are trying to steal the nomination from the people. You or I would say this if we were in his place too (perhaps with different words, but he’s got a strong argument.)
Cruz and Kasich are completely within their rights. The system allows for this and once upon a time it was common practice. Trump still has the easier pitch. It fits how many/most Americans thought the process worked.
The conspirators will get a bit more coverage over the next couple days. Interviewers will ask them a series of process questions. If they want to succeed, they’ll need to do their best to use the exposure to run against Hillary Clinton. The undecided voters want to see someone take on the presumed opponent.
So far it’s too little, it’s probably too late, but at least Cruz and Kasich won’t go to their political graves knowing they held on to their final card. With some improved messaging, this deal can lead to the contested convention they’re dreaming of. But they only have a week before Indiana. Chop chop.