Election 2020

Are Cruz and Kasich Making a Trump Win Possible?

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Josh Kraushaar at the revivified National Journal sure seems to think so:

Even as Don­ald Trump’s strong per­form­ance Tues­day night was a ser­i­ous set­back to the anti-Trump move­ment, the biggest obstacles to stop­ping Trump are his own Re­pub­lic­an rivals. In­stead of work­ing to­geth­er and deny­ing Trump del­eg­ates, both Ted Cruz and John Kasich have pur­sued self-de­struct­ive, self-in­ter­ested strategies that seemed de­signed more to one-up each oth­er than take on the front-run­ner in the race.

Ac­cord­ing to The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port’s del­eg­ate score­card, des­pite Trump’s suc­cess­ful night last Tues­day, he is now (slightly) off track to se­cur­ing the 1,237 del­eg­ates ne­ces­sary to clinch be­fore the con­ven­tion. And, ac­cord­ing to the del­eg­ate math, Cruz and Kasich have no path to win­ning a ma­jor­ity. If both Cruz and Kasich are look­ing to deny Trump his ne­ces­sary del­eg­ates (and press their luck with a con­tested con­ven­tion), they should be co­ordin­at­ing to their ad­vant­age. Kasich would cede most of the West­ern states, with more-con­ser­vat­ive elect­or­ates, to Cruz. Cruz, whose so­cial con­ser­vat­ism doesn’t sell well above the Ma­son-Dix­on line, would al­low Kasich free rein in the North­east battle­grounds.

In­stead, we’re see­ing Trump’s op­pon­ents em­ploy strategies that mainly help Trump…. in­stead of think­ing stra­tegic­ally, Kasich and Cruz are be­hav­ing as if they have a lo­gic­al shot at win­ning a ma­jor­ity of del­eg­ates. Cruz na­ively be­lieves that, if the race were a one-on-one battle with him and Trump, he’d pre­vail. These as­sump­tions are de­lu­sion­al. Cruz would likely lose badly to Trump head-to-head in the North­east­ern battle­grounds, where his brand of con­ser­vat­ism is as dis­liked as Trump’s pop­u­list spiel. And Kasich is math­em­at­ic­ally elim­in­ated from win­ning a ma­jor­ity of del­eg­ates; it’s near-im­possible for him to even come close to Trump.

Their path to vic­tory lies in deny­ing Trump enough del­eg­ates to have a ma­jor­ity en­ter­ing the con­ven­tion. The math shows such an out­come is very pos­sible. The ques­tion is wheth­er Trump’s rivals have the stra­tegic dis­cip­line to pull of the task.

Probably not. Despite all the talk of a third-party, rump-conservative insurgency, that is unlikely to happen. As Kraushaar notes, that stratagem is being bruited to protect the down-ballot Republican candidates from a conservative exodus on election day.

That’s pre­cisely why some party lead­ers be­lieve having a third-party con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ate is something of a ne­ces­sity with Trump as the nom­in­ee. Even if a split Re­pub­lic­an Party costs them the pres­id­ency, get­ting enough GOP voters to the polls will be cru­cial with the Sen­ate and the House both po­ten­tially in play.

But whether any presidential candidate — especially Cruz — would willingly forego competing with his foremost rival head-to-head is highly unlikely, given the temperaments of all three. So who might be a consensus candidate to emerge from the convention should Trump fall short? I don’t want to steal Kraushaar’s thunder, so please read the whole thing; the answers might surprise you.