2016 Republicans, Counting Delegates, State of the Race, Strategy, Uncategorized

Why the Aborted Cruz-Kasich Alliance Wasn’t a Disaster

April 29, 2016

It’s not hard to find reasons to heap scorn on Ted Cruz and John Kasich. A good 35 to 40 percent of Republicans have grave doubts/fears about Donald Trump and neither candidate can consistently defeat him. As we’re constantly reminded, Kasich is 1 for infinity so far. Cruz is proving completely unable to unify the sputtering #NeverTrump movement around him.

On Sunday evening, the Cruz and Kasich campaigns announced an alliance of sorts. Cruz would focus on Indiana, Kasich on Oregon and New Mexico. Immediately and predictably, Donald Trump bashed this confederation of losers, holding it up as an example of corruption and a rigged system, while dismissing the chances of success.

Normally corruption isn’t accompanied by press releases detailing the plan. It’s a reasonable strategy, the big question being what took them so damn long. It’s equally understandable why their opponent would use the announcement to reinforce his pre-existing pitch that was already working.

On Tuesday, late deciding voters joined the masses of Trump supporters in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and most importantly Pennsylvania to deal Cruz/Kasich a stunning rebuke. Everyone was ready for a Trump sweep. Nobody was ready for him to win every county and every congressional district in every state.

Whether referring to exit polls, movement from regular polls to actual results, or plain old anecdotal evidence, it sure seems like the first result of the alliance was to push Trump forward, not his opponents. Before the ink was dry on the agreement, Kasich told his voters in Indiana he still wanted them to vote for him.

He explained the deal was a matter of resources, allowing him to concentrate his limited funds on Oregon, not a plea for voters to shift to Cruz in one state and him in another. This is consistent with his position back in March. Prior to the Florida and Ohio primaries, Marco Rubio indicated his supporters in Ohio could support Kasich to stop Trump. Kasich did not respond in turn and objected to the idea of his Florida voters going elsewhere.

Rubio only got 2% of the vote in Ohio, less than his collapsing poll numbers indicated, contributing to the Kasich win. Florida voters did not migrate, with Kasich keeping the ¬†tenth of voters who indicated they would prefer him. It didn’t change the result. Rubio got destroyed, but it was an indicator of how Kasich might approach this situation.

Trump gleefully tweeted his scorn over two politicians failing to carry out their arrangement. By Thursday, whatever deal was in place was officially dead, with Cruz no longer pledging to stay away from Oregon and Kasich strategist John Weaver calling him a liar.

For those bothering to comment on the unwinding, the universal opinion is this is the latest in a series of failures by both campaigns, further evidence The Donald is dealing with Dumb and Dumberer. I’m not going to claim each step here was intentional, but this worked out perfectly for both maligned candidates.

How so?

This definitely didn’t help in Pennsylvania. I’d argue it hurt. But Trump was headed for an enormous win anyway. It didn’t get him past 50%, it moved him from maybe 53 or 54 to 57. Meh. If some of the destruction is chalked up to bad strategy instead of undesirable candidates, all the better.

The agreement accomplished two extremely important things. It got Kasich out of Indiana and it got Kasich out of Indiana. The first of those was absolutely essential to Cruz. It looks like it will take about 42-43% to win the state.

Trump is virtually guaranteed to wind up no worse than the upper 30s. The difference between Kasich winding up at 16% and 22% is the difference between Cruz having a real shot and almost definitely losing.

But Kasich needed to exit for his own reasons too. He wasn’t going to win. He wasn’t going to finish second unless Cruz collapsed and it was another Pennsylvania situation where Trump broke 50% and the others fought for scraps. That would have ensured a Trump first ballot nomination. No good.

If Cruz didn’t collapse, Kasich would complete his cycle of finishing no better than third in every state bordering Ohio. Not a good story line. It would take away from his already nonexistent momentum heading into Oregon, and divide his very limited resources.

He had to find an out. Nobody is talking about how ridiculous it is that he can’t compete next door. Yes I’m aware this is mostly because nobody speaks of John Kasich, but still. These factors explain the Sunday agreement. Now for the unwinding.

It’s important for both Cruz and Kasich that the ornery governor told his voters to hang on. There aren’t very many on Team Kasich, but they don’t like Ted Cruz. Anyone deciding between the two for strategic purposes will go to Cruz. If Kasich isn’t advertising, isn’t campaigning, isn’t progressing in Indiana polls, anyone who doesn’t like Trump and can stomach Ted will go for him.

Remaining voters would either stay with Kasich anyway out of protest, go to Trump, or stay home. None of those things help Cruz. Nor does Kasich exiting the race. A weakened governor is better for Ted than an absent one. How easily can you picture the limited amount of Republicans in Portland, Seattle or the Bay Area choosing Cruz?

If Kasich doesn’t do his grumpy act, there’s no safe harbor for anti-Cruz voters. This brings us to the final benefit of dissolution. Cruz needed to come up with something so Kasich could justify leaving Indiana. That something was Oregon. New Mexico was added to make the available delegates match, but Oregon is the important one.

The problem is Kasich isn’t actually doing well there. He’s underperforming in all the regions he was supposed to do well. If Cruz stays away, Trump wins. If Trump wins on the West Coast, Cruz has an even harder time justifying a convention jailbreak. Not to mention Trump getting extra delegates to push him closer to 1237.

Yesterday, the Portland Oregonian released the only survey in 2016. Taken on 4/26 and 4/27, it showed Trump 43, Cruz 26, Kasich 17. I can’t think of the scenario that would vault Kasich from 17% to contention. The only three contests between now and then are Indiana, Nebraska, and West Virginia. If he breaks 20% in any of the three it’s an upset.

If anyone takes Trump down in Oregon, it’s Cruz. So the deal is kaput. He can’t leave it to Kasich. While Weaver might call Cruz out on Twitter, it’s best for the Kasich campaign too. A Trump victory is one more way to guarantee he wins on the first ballot.

Kasich’s odds are very, very poor right now. Cruz could win on a second or third ballot. The governor needs a 5th or 6th round at a minimum. You can’t get there if Trump wins. They can call Cruz whatever names they want. Cruz can say this fell apart because of what Kasich said in Indiana. The rest of us can say they seem like two four-year-olds in a sandbox.

But overall, it played out perfectly for both. They each have weak hands, so it doesn’t look like progress. Too late to do anything about that. Well done. Intentionally or not.

 

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