By now, you’ve probably heard about the anti-Trump alliance between Ted Cruz and John Kasich, which has apparently been months in the making. The deal is simple: Kasich stops campaigning in Indiana, Cruz stops fighting in Oregon and New Mexico, and ideally they sweep those three states between them and deny Donald Trump the 1,237 delegates he’ll need to secure the nomination before this summer’s GOP convention in Cleveland, opening the whole process up to chaos and back-room dealings that might tilt in their favor.
Trump responded to the news with the smirking machismo we’ve come to expect:
The thing is, he's right—the move looks desperate, and calculated, and weak. In the best-case scenario, it works to keep Trump from the nomination, and maybe Kasich (more likely) or Cruz (less likely) ends up the beneficiary of wheeling and dealing in Cleveland. Even then, what does that really accomplish? How can either of them credibly run in the general election against a candidate who legitimately won a national primary? If you can't muster enough support to win your own constituency, can you really expect to fare much better nationally?
The Republican establishment is the one that truly benefits from the alliance—they get to avoid having Trump sully their name until November, thereby costing the party a generation of women and minority voters, but why would Cruz and Kasich play along? All it gets them is the potential of a pyrrhic victory, and no real path to the White House. In fact, Kasich was presented with this option not long ago when Marco Rubio wanted to pull a Florida-for-Ohio swap, and he made the correct call to mock Rubio and refuse the offer. He won Ohio, made Rubio look weak, and essentially eliminated one of his main challengers.
So what changed? Why jump in bed with Cruz now? The whole strategy is odd, and it's becoming odder by the minute as Kasich seems to realize his error. Today, less than 12 hours after both campaigns released statements reflecting their intentions to “clear the path” for the other, Kasich seems to be deviating from the script speaking a different language altogether. Politico reports that he seems to be back-tracking on the Indiana deal:
“I've never told them not to vote for me, they should vote for me,” Kasich said during a prickly exchange with reporters at a Philadelphia diner.
“I'm not over there campaigning and spending resources. We have limited resources,” he continued. “Mine is like the people's campaign. I have a campaign where, you know, we've been outspent basically 50-to-1. You folks have been counting me out before I even got to New Hampshire. And now we can't jam all of you into this diner. I mean, everybody chill out.”
The only thing worse than a pact made out of weakness is a candidate who is too weak to hold up his end of the shady bargain. Again, Trump pretty much nailed it:
And more, from Politico:
Early Monday morning, Trump blasted his rivals’ nascent coordination, calling it “often illegal in many other industries and yet these two Washington insiders have had to revert to collusion in order to stay alive.” “They are mathematically dead and this act only shows, as puppets of donors and special interests, how truly weak they and their campaigns are,” Trump said, noting his large and growing lead. Thanks to his campaign, he concluded, “everyone now sees that the Republican primary system is totally rigged.”
Check, check, and check. If anything, the collusion between Trump and Kasich only makes them look more weak, and seems likely to galvanize Trump supporters further. It is entirely understandable that the GOP establishment is dead set on an “anybody but Trump” approach to the primaries, and there’s nothing wrong with Cruz and Kasich prioritizing certain states as their respective war chests dwindle. But why publicly admit any kind of coordination? All it does is highlight the fact that they can’t compete, and feed into the image of Trump as the race’s indomitable titan. The GOP needs a couple of patsies to stop their worst nightmare from hijacking the party, but it remains a mystery why Cruz and Kasich would be dumb enough to jump headfirst on their own swords.