April 27, 2016
They’re calling Ted Cruz’s decision to announce a running mate his “Hail Carly” move, a last minute, last hope, heave downfield as the clock is running out. Usually when a quarterback throws a Hail Mary pass, it falls short, gets intercepted, or otherwise doesn’t work. There’s a reason they only throw these when they have to.
Before Donald Trump swept every county and every congressional district in five states last night, he was already leading polls in Indiana. He already had his foreign policy speech scheduled for today. It was already evident Cruz would need to win Indiana to survive, hence his deal with John Kasich.
There’s every reason to believe Fiorina was a legitimate option for Cruz, even if he were in better position. She endorsed him several weeks ago and spent more time on the stump with him than any other surrogate. They had plenty of time to take the partnership for a test drive.
Vetting is easier on someone who was already a presidential candidate. While she didn’t get the scrutiny a top tier candidate would have, Carly did have her moment in the sun after her performance in the second debate. Her tenure at the helm of Hewlett-Packard was plenty controversial, but not a new development or knowledge.
She’s solidly conservative. She’s (mostly/sorta) an outsider. Carly said Cruz was “just like any other politician” back in January, but that’s not exactly George H.W. Bush calling Ronald Reagan’s plan Voodoo Economics a couple months before winding up on the ticket with him. If Trump happens to pick anyone from the 2016 field, something worse is on tape.
Few other politicians are as comfortable attacking both Trump and Hillary Clinton, the two primary obstacles Cruz is facing. Fiorina is already under fire from the DNC and Emily’s List, a PAC for liberal female candidates. Planned Parenthood took a big swipe. With enemies like those, who needs friends?
Trump has done an excellent job painting Cruz as part of a larger establishment conspiracy. It’s left him in the unenviable position of being distrusted by angry voters and those insiders who occasionally begrudgingly endorse him but aren’t actually behind him.
Under better circumstances, Fiorina could help create a virtuous cycle. A reason for non-Trumpist Republican women to feel a little better about the Cruz candidacy and a target for the progressive groups who regularly attack conservative women.
Because of #NeverTrump, and the demise of all non-Kasich establishment-friendly choices, Cruz hasn’t received the Beltway scorn he was anticipating. Most of his incoming is from Trump himself. Voters trying to decide between the two are seeing people like Lindsey Graham and Jeb Bush team up with Ted, even if under protest.
It’s all well and good for Cruz to list Planned Parenthood among the 13 issues Trump and Hillary have some agreement on, but having that organization slam the Cruz-Fiorina ticket is 1000x better for him. It’s a good enough fit that I can’t help wondering what would have happened if Cruz had done this on April 6.
After the Wisconsin win he was riding high and virtually all delegate estimators figured we were headed for a contested convention. Picking Fiorina then would have looked like an act of strength. Cruz could have said that the remaining voters needed to get the best possible idea of what team each candidate would put forward.
He could have said that while the process allows for delegates to make the final decision, the will of the people is crucial. He could have encouraged Trump to do the same in the interests of transparency. Given that The Donald hadn’t begun a vetting process and likely wanted to keep his options open, it would have put him on the defensive.
At that point, Cruz probably thought his chances were much better than they are today. He probably wanted the chance to offer the position to someone actually holding delegates. Instead of acting like a nominee by choosing Fiorina and pivoting more aggressively to show how he would take on Clinton, he urged Kasich to exit.
That’s all hindsight now. The reason it matters is that we are only days away from the second strike for this tactic. Reagan picked Richard Schweiker ahead of the convention in 1976 for similar reasons. He was trailing President Ford in delegates and wanted the best possible shot at the uncommitted Pennsylvania delegation.
In that case it was pretty good timing, pretty bad Veep choice. Schweiker did represent Pennsylvania in the Senate but was not particularly powerful in his home state. He was far too moderate for Reagan supporters to accept, without allaying the fears of delegates who thought the Gipper was too conservative.
The gambit failed. Ford got the Pennsylvania delegates, a few Mississippi delegates abandoned Reagan, he lost the nomination on the first ballot, and nobody tried a preemptive pick again until today. Fiorina is a much better pick, but Cruz’s odds are worse than Reagan’s were.
If Trump wins Indiana by 7 to 10 points, we might go another 40 years without a candidate trying this again. If so, that’s too bad. While there’s some strategic value in waiting until closer to the convention, or wanting to see who the opposition tabs first, this does give primary voters a better idea of what type of leader they are voting for.
It’s not always practical. Multiple candidates might prefer the same person. In this case, there is little chance (ok less than none) Trump would have picked Carly. Promising politicians would worry about jumping on a losing nomination ticket. Failing in the fall isn’t great for future prospects. Coming up short in the spring is worse.
Fiorina has much less to lose than Nikki Haley would. I’m not suggesting this become the standard, but it’s unfortunate that many view such a move as presumptuous or desperate. Today it’s desperate, three weeks ago presumptuous.
Cruz doesn’t have great odds in Indiana, never mind keeping Trump short enough of 1237 delegates to put his second or third ballot advantage to work. But his odds are better tonight than they were in the morning. This deflects at least a little bit from the disaster last night and Trump’s speech today.
Carly is on with Megyn Kelly tonight and will get more TV exposure between now and Tuesday than she had during her entire campaign. Whatever point Cruz wants to make, she can pitch. It’s a good deal for Fiorina. If it fails, it was too late. If he even wins Indiana, never mind the nomination, Carly was the reason. It improves her chances of accomplishing whatever she wants to do next.
Just remember, even if Trump wins by 20 on Tuesday, it doesn’t mean candidates shouldn’t pick a running mate early. Only that Ted waited too long.