You know, for a primary that’s clearly over (or, at least, one that will be clear to everyone who doesn’t realize it four days from now), our road toward Trump’s nomination continues to have some fun twists. Just when you thought this primary cycle couldn’t get any stranger, Ted Cruz, who has almost no chance at the nomination, picked Carly Fiorina as his running mate. This development, of course, comes on the heels of Cruz and John Kasich teaming up to stop their mutual rival, Donald Trump. Surely there have been moments of private collusion in previous primaries, but I can’t think of any time when it was so openly executed.
This is what we in the business call “bonkers.”
Their strategy is simple and, some might argue, long overdue. It’s similar to what Mitt Romney tried to coordinate a few days after Super Tuesday: the channeling of resources and strategic voting toward candidates who can beat Trump in certain states. In this case, Kasich will step aside for Cruz in conservative Indiana, while Cruz “promises” to give Kasich a free lane in more moderate Oregon and New Mexico.
It won’t work.
For the moment, however, let’s indulge them. What follows is their best case scenario in their effort to keep Trump under 1,237 delegates.
First, we need to know the current hard delegate totals. With 626 delegates remaining (including the 118 unbound delegates that some outlets have allocated to candidates):
- Trump is at 956 and needs 281 to reach 1,237
- Cruz is at 547 and needs 690 to reach 1,237 (Impossible)
- Kasich is at 154 and needs 1,083 to reach 1,237 (Impossible squared)
Although we’ve known for quite some time that Cruz and Kasich’s only path to the nomination was through a contested convention, it’s now a mathematical certainty for both. Between that development and Trump’s ramped up momentum from the six northeast primaries, desperate times call for desperate measures, hence the new strategy.
Next, we have to understand the remaining contests. Below are the last ten states of the Republican Primary.
AL means At-Large delegates, CD means Congressional district Delegates. Note that the “Total” will always be three higher because of 3 unbound RNC delegates (the “superdelegates” of the party) from each state, but the party has consistently tied them to the At Large result (are you listening, Democrats?), so we can effectively add three delegates to the AL column.
Worth noting is that the above ten states only account for 502 of the 626 delegates remaining. Six are yet to be allocated from states who have voted, and another 118 unbound delegates will be in play between June 7 and the Republican National Convention on July 18. Moving forward, let’s just focus on the 502. Our guiding question: Can Cruz and Kasich keep Trump significantly under 1,237 by the end of the primaries so that a bunch of unbound delegates going to Trump won’t put him over?
Now we arrive the Cruz-Kasich strategy (and it only took 500 words!). Indiana has clearly become the main front for the #StopTrump movement, and it’s the state Cruz has (supposedly) sacrificed New Mexico and Oregon in order to win. The hope is that a Cruz win in the Hoosier State immediately stops Trump’s momentum before his nomination is a foregone conclusion to remaining Republican voters. Moreover, Indiana’s 30 at-large delegates and the 3 delegates from each of the 9 Congressional districts are winner-take-all, regardless of winning percentage. If Cruz can siphon enough of Kasich’s support to win the state by a comfortable margin, he could sweep all its delegates (or maybe take all but 3 or 6), hurting Trump’s quest for 1,237.
If one looks at the latest Indiana polls, you can almost believe the optimism. The most recent poll comes from CBS:
- Trump 40
- Cruz 35
- Kasich 20
If half of Kasich’s support goes to Cruz, it’s Cruz up by five instead of Trump, which would secure all 30 state-wide delegates and might be enough to sweep the district delegates as well. If Cruz does end up sweeping the state, Trump would have to go from winning 56 percent of remaining primary delegates (281/502) to 63 percent (281/445) if he wants to reach 1,237 by the end of the primaries. (If we recalculated based on total remaining delegates, which includes unbound delegates that can declare for Trump between the end of the primaries and the convention, a Cruz sweep in Indiana would mean Trump would move from having to win 44.9 percent [281/626] to 49.4 percent [281/569]. Still a significant jump.)
Just as important, Cruz’s win in Indiana would probably set up taking most of the delegates a week later, when Nebraska and West Virginia vote. Nebraska has the same winner-take-all rules for state-wide and district delegates, and Cruz has done really well in the region, winning Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Iowa. If Cruz wins Indiana, he’s going to win Nebraska big. If he wins Nebraska big, even a Trump win in West Virginia, which will be quirky with direct delegate elections, means Trump would continue to lose pace.
The following week is Oregon, which Cruz has ostensible ceded to Kasich in the hopes of him winning the blue state over Trump. It’s proportional, so every percentage point counts. Cruz probably saw himself doing as well in Oregon as he did across the northeast. (Which is to say — badly.) A week later is the state of Washington, a mostly proportional state where Kasich can also do well to block a Trump runaway if the above scenario develops.
Then we arrive at June 7, when we’ll have five states finish the “democratic” segment of the primary cycle. Three of the states are winner-take-all: Sourh Dakota, Montana, and New Jersey. If Cruz wins Indiana and Nebraska in May, he’ll also win South Dakota and Montana on June 7; those two states combine for 53 delegates and can cancel out Trump’s 51 in winner-take-all New Jersey. That leaves two states: New Mexico, a proportional state which Cruz has apparently given to Kasich (do you sense a pattern in my wording regarding Cruz’s intentions?), and then Big Daddy Cali.
And that’s it. Our last ten states. If the strategy works like it’s supposed to, not counting California, we can give:
- Cruz most of IN; bits of WV, OR, WA, and NM; and all of NE, MT, and SD. He’d earn roughly 160 to 170 delegates.
- Kasich a lot of the three proportional states — OR, WA, and NM — earning him 20 to 30 delegates.
- Trump a bit of IN, big chunks of WV, OR, WA, and NM, and all of NJ, giving him about 130 to 140 delegates.
In such a circumstance, not counting California’s 172 delegates, Trump would at about 1090, Cruz at about 710, and Kasich at about 180. Trump would need 147 of California’s delegates to reach 1,237, which means he’d need to win the state-wide vote (for 10 delegates) and 46 of the state’s 53 districts (for 138), which seems like too tall an order if he’s still perceived as vulnerable and Cruz sicks his organizational abilities across the massive state.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Not so fast. Caveats:
1. Don’t forget about the 118 unbound delegates. Many of them will be, and in fact have already declared, for Trump. #NeverTrumpers will want to keep Trump considerably under 1,237 by the end of the primaries so the unbound delegates can’t push him over.
2. This entire chain reaction was predicated on a big Cruz win in Indiana, one that I don’t believe will happen just because Kasich stepped aside and Fiorina was named Cruz’s running mate. Furthermore, the Cruz-Kasich deal is playing really badly across the country. Every media outlet is mostly running stories of people reacting negatively to it, and voters in the remaining ten states are probably not warming to the strange bedfellows.
You can understand their problem. We always assumed politicians were shady, that they made backroom deals for their own selfish purposes. In this latest effort, we see two of them doing it blatantly, and Americans don’t seem to have the stomach for it.
Worse yet, it’s one thing for politicians to make their dubious deals, but to ask voters to also partake in them is something else entirely. Most of us eat burgers, but don’t ever make us slaughter the cow!
Ultimately, there’s a pretty solid chance that Cruz and Kasich have played right into Trump’s tiny elvish hands. FiveThirtyEight recently ran a column about Trump’s “rigged” rhetoric working like a charm. His numbers have climbed ever since Cruz cajoled those Colorado and Wyoming delegates into his corner. This development fits perfectly into Trump’s narrative that the system is broken and corrupt, and he’s the man to save the day.
Not only will that help Trump earn more undecided voters down the stretch, but it’s unlikely Cruz and Kasich will see the gains they’re hoping for from this deal. Think about it: do Cruz and Kasich supporters share many similarities? Considering Cruz’s background as an ardently antiestablishment, uncompromising conservative and Kasich’s campaign as an establishment moderate making overtures to the other side of the aisle, it’s unlikely the two camps of voters have crossover potential. Consequently, their supporters might sooner stay home than vote for the other guy, or they might even turn to Trump out of frustration.
As a #NeverTrumper who badly wants a contested convention, I must try to reframe the decision these people face:
“Hear me, Cruz and Kasich supporters! Don’t think of a vote for the other guy as actually a vote for the other guy. Think of it as a vote for an open convention, which is the only chance your guy has to win! A Kasich voter in Indiana has to consider his or her vote for Cruz as a vote for Kasich’s survival into July. Same for Cruz voters in Oregon and New Mexico. It’s a vote to give your own candidate a puncher’s chance in Cleveland. In the meantime, swallow your ideology and vote for a nemesis. Yes, it’ll be a strange feeling, but what about this primary hasn’t been strange?”
Nah, won’t work.
Trump will win Indiana, and he’ll win it comfortably. The crescendo will be complete, and he’ll dominate over the last ten states. Republicans will rally to him. They’ll find things to like about him and forget about the things they don’t. He is the Republican nominee for president.
And that is, without question, the craziest part of this crazy campaign.