Over the weekend, I read an article that annoyed me to no end: “Inside Ted Cruz’s plan to sink Marco Rubio in Florida.” I was furious. In the days before the article, both Presidential Politics for America and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney outlined plans to force a contest convention, and those plans involved having Rubio beat Trump in Florida.
Between PPFA and Romney, those are two of the most influential voices in American politics. They spoke in unison: Trump cannot be allowed to win Florida. If Cruz, however, “sinks” Rubio there, Trump would grab its 99 delegates and continue his march to the nomination. Didn’t Cruz get the memo? Is he is trying to ruin this for us?
Ted Cruz isn’t fun at all. But I’ll tell you what he is.
He’s in it to win it.
Before we go any further, we need to take a look at the latest Republican delegate standings.
- Trump 389
- Cruz 302
- Rubio 149
- Kasich 37
- Other 15
- Trump 384
- Cruz 300
- Rubio 151
- Kasich 37
- Other 15
- Trump 391
- Cruz 304
- Rubio 154
- Kasich 37
- Other 15
The Trump runaway is over. Sure, his lead remains, but compare his lead over Cruz to Cruz’s margin over Rubio. It’s clear why Cruz frames the Republican Primary as a two-man race. That’s exactly what it’s starting to look like.
Ted Cruz got the memo all right, but he realized he didn’t need to follow its instructions. In fact, he knew that by agreeing to it, he’d be signing his campaign’s death warrant.
The idea was to keep Trump under 1,237 delegates to force a convention and then allow party leaders to rally to consolidate around Rubio, Kasich, Romney, or whichever acceptable establishment candidate was out there. Ted Cruz was never going to be that candidate. Sure, a brokered convention would block Donald Trump, but it would also block Ted Cruz, whether he finished in third, second, or even first in the pre-convention delegate count. Cruz’s situation was similar to Trump’s — he needed to win the primary on the first ballot through the voting contests themselves. He wants to take this thing outright.
That means getting into a one-on-one with Trump, a process which starts by eliminating Marco Rubio, who, despite yesterday’s Puerto Rico dominance, is facing an uphill battle in his home state. Cruz’s push in Florida might increase Trump’s chances of winning Florida’s 99 winner-take-all delegates and, consequentially, the nomination, but it also would end Rubio’s campaign. Rubio’s withdrawal would then decrease the chances of a contested convention, but it would increase the chance of Cruz inheriting enough support to earn a majority of the delegates on his own. In sum, he’d be raising the chances of Trump winning the primary, but his own chances would increase by just as much, if not more.
It’s a long-shot, to be sure. There’s the 90ish delegate deficit to Trump, for starters, and that could more than double with a Trump win in Florida. There’s also the delegate map: Cruz’s strongest states — not just geographically and ideologically, but structurally as well, considering the disproportionate amount of caucus states we’ve had — are behind him. Worst case scenario, eliminating Rubio helps Trump and Kasich more than they help Cruz, since the other two are stronger with moderates, and there are large, moderate states remaining where they might divvy Rubio’s support. That means Trump either cruises to a majority, or it’s Kasich as the candidate with momentum heading into the convention in Cleveland — with establishment backing and in his home state, no less.
But at least a long-shot is a shot. A brokered convention never would have favored him. At best, he would have had to accept Trump’s VP offer to combine into a majority of delegates (still on the table, by the way). Under his “End Marco” strategy, he’s counting on his emergence as Trump’s only rival to be a rallying point across the country, even in moderate states. Winning the delegate-poor states of Alaska and Maine might seem trivial, but it helps his message that he can go anywhere and beat Trump, rather than just doing well up the spine of the American Midwest. Whether that’s true remains to be seen; Alaska and Maine are antiestablishment caucus-states. New York and California are decidedly different challenges.
Still, if he can convince the many anti-Trump voters that he is, indeed, “the only man who can beat Donald Trump,” then it might not matter what the demographics of the state are It appears more Republicans are against Trump than with him. Cruz has the ability to edge out Trump in a two-man race, especially when we consider that Trump may be falling apart before our eyes at the exact time Cruz is ascending.
Big picture, our chances of a brokered convention certainly went up a bit in the last week, but Cruz is trying to ensure that it’s either Trump or himself, outright. If you, like me, desperately want to go into Cleveland without a presumptive nominee, it’s critical that Rubio and Kasich pick up more delegates and not drop out too soon. Right now, the two of them and the withdrawn candidates combine for about 200 delegates. Consider this math:
2,472 (total possible delegates) – 200 (delegates won by non-Trump/Cruz candidates) = 2,272.
2,272 (total possible delegates for Trump/Cruz) – 1,237 (delegates needed for the nomination) = 1,035.
That 1,035 represents the number of delegates the runner-up between Trump and Cruz will need to force a convention if Rubio and Kasich don’t pick up any more delegates. That’s a LOT of delegates for a runner-up. Votes would have to break so perfectly for Trump and Cruz over the next three months that it’s way too much to hope for. Rubio and Kasich will certainly win a few more, but we want more than a few. Every future delegate won by them will reduce the number that the Trump/Cruz runner-up will need to force a convention, so we still want Rubio in Florida, Kasich in Ohio, and both of them to remain viable for as long as possible.
If Rubio does have to pack up shop by or on the 15th, we’d have only one more glimmer of hope. Rubio’s voters might turn almost entirely to Kasich, meaning he can more easily win big states down the stretch. Pennsylvania is a possibility, as is Washington, Oregon, Illinois, and Wisconsin. If Kasich wins those states, we can still get our convention.
But not if Cruz has anything to say about it. He’s just no fun.
Tomorrow I’ll preview Tuesday’s primaries. See you then.