Ted Cruz and John Kasich have spent the last few months pretending like they had a chance to win a plurality of delegates. Kasich has been more open about the necessity of a contested convention, but he's still behaved as though the delegate math were otherwise. Cruz, on the other hand, has insisted he's the only candidate who can and will defeat Trump at the voting booth.
Well, that's over. After the political bloodbath in New York, Cruz and Kasich have finally ceded to reality. The second-tier candidates have had a tenuous relationship throughout most of the campaign, particularly after everyone else dropped out. Both candidates have proffered some version of the I'm-the-only-one-who-can-win argument, and both have suggested at times that the other one should drop out in order to clear the way for a two-candidate race.
Now, however, it's all about teamwork. Politico reported over the weekend that Cruz and Kasich are joining forces in a last-ditch effort to stop the Trump juggernaut. It's an alliance of convenience to be sure, but also an overt admission that neither believes they have any chance of winning via democratic means. The singular goal now is to prevent Trump from acquiring enough delegates to secure the nomination on the first ballot.
Both campaigns have concluded it's best to abandon certain states and instead focus resources in a few strategic areas where the other is no longer competing. “To ensure that we nominate a Republican who can unify the Republican Party and win in November,” Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe said, “our campaign will focus its time and resources in Indiana and in turn clear a path for Gov. Kasich to compete in Oregon and New Mexico, and we would hope that allies of both campaigns would follow our lead.”
This enables Cruz to dump all of his resources into Indiana, a state he has to win if he wants to prevent Trump from reaching a majority before July. There are 57 delegates at stake in the Hoosier state. The latest polls show Trump leading by an average of 6.3 points, but Cruz is closing the gap and will likely continue to do so now that he's pulling out of places like Oregon and New Mexico.
In turn, Kasich, who had no chance in Indiana, can spend his time more effectively out West, where he is at least minimally competitive. “We will focus our time and resources in New Mexico and Oregon, both areas that are structurally similar to the Northeast politically, where Gov. Kasich is performing well,” said John Weaver, Kasich's chief strategist. “We would expect independent third-party groups to do the same and honor the commitments made by the Cruz and Kasich campaigns.”
There's now no doubt as to the strategy moving forward: block Trump from winning the nomination outright. Predictably, Trump fired back on Twitter, writing “Wow, just announced that Lyin' Ted and Kasich are going to collude in order to keep me from getting the Republican nomination. DESPERATION.”
The Trump campaign released a statement this morning, clarifying their narrative: “When two candidates who have no path to victory get together to stop a candidate who is expanding the party by millions of voters, (all of whom will drop out if I am not in the race) it is yet another example of everything that is wrong in Washington and our political system. This horrible act of desperation, from two campaigns who have totally failed, makes me even more determined, for the good of the Republican Party and our country, to prevail!”
Trump has a point: This does smack of desperation, and it is an underhanded attempt to subvert the process. It won't work, though. A move like this will cement the Trump vs. the establishment narrative in a way Trump could only dream of. His entire campaign is built on the presumption that Washington is rigged. This sort of collusion confirms that and will further antagonize his coalition. Cruz and Kasich might stop Trump from reaching 1,237 delegates, but this will heighten the drama and chaos at the convention. If an attempt is made to usurp Trump on a second or third ballot, his supporters will rightly see it as contrived and a cause for revolt.