Here’s a word to those members of the Republican Party who still want to stop Donald Trump.
After Super Tuesday and Super Saturday were not so super for either John Kasich or Marco Rubio, there are only two plausible paths forward: 1) “Trump against the field,” where Kasich, Rubio, and Cruz all stay in and divide the map to play to their strengths (Kasich for Ohio, Rubio for Florida, Cruz everywhere else) and deny Trump delegates, and 2) “Cruz or lose,” where Rubio and Kasich bow out soon and Cruz goes head-to-head with Trump.
Weighing the costs and benefits, the “Cruz or lose” strategy is the far better route. Here’s why:
“Trump against the field” has a low upside: the best case scenario is a contested convention where Trump arrives in Cleveland with a commanding delegate lead or plurality, but not an outright majority. Somehow, Kasich, Rubio, and Cruz won’t seriously compete with each other, will try to beat Trump everywhere they can, and hope the voters play along. Somehow, the party will get through a series of second, third, and fourth ballots where anybody could win. First, this has so many collective action problems that I’m highly skeptical. Game theory suggests screw-ups in the plan are likely, cooperation is unlikely (see, e.g., Cruz and his new Florida field offices). Trump could still win outright.
Moreover, this kind of bargain is precisely what Trump voters hate. It’s what gave the GOP Trump in the first place. If Trump goes into Cleveland in the lead and Rubio comes out as the nominee, I predict ’68-style riots. Even still, Trump could emerge victorious, but not until electoral blood has been shed. This is a disaster.
However, a “Cruz or lose” strategy has a high upside: a “fairer” victory over Trump by Cruz getting to 1,237 first. It’s most probable downside is the upside of the multi-candidate strategy, a contested convention. Cruz’s convincing victories in Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Oklahoma, and Texas, not to mention his strong second place in Minnesota over Trump, show Cruz can compete in diverse geographical and demographic groups. He has purchase outside of evangelicals and very conservative voters. And even if Cruz does not get to a majority outright but wins roughly 50% of the remaining delegates (with Rubio, Kasich, Jeb, and Carson on the sidelines sitting on a few placeholder delegates), the party will still get the contested convention.
Both strategies risk an outright Trump win. But the risk of a Trump win is smaller with Rubio and Kasich getting out to allow the rest of the party to rally around Cruz. And after Cruz’s upset victories across the country from Maine to Kansas to Alaska, he has earned the right to stay in and compete to the end.
Of course, whether Rubio and Kasich stay in is between them and God, and the voters.