Ted Cruz announced on Wednesday in Indiana that should he receive the nomination, his general election running mate will be former Hewlett-Packard CEO and presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.
Some members of the pundit class immediately reacted with skepticism. Needless to say, this is unorthodox. Tapping a vice presidential pick in the middle of a contested primary, before what is likely to be an open convention, is a historic, groundbreaking move. But it’s timing brings up the question: after Trump’s romp in the “Acela primary” on Tuesday, is this the desperate ploy of a campaign at the end of its rope?
I don’t think so. In fact, I think this could be pure genius.
In the short run, Cruz gains media attention for his positive message and generates buzz. News coverage is the lifeblood of a campaign. By announcing a vice presidential pick now, with less than a week until the Indiana primary, Cruz steals the thunder of his opponents and gets an opportunity to persuade undecided voters with his vision for the country.
But these benefits are dwarfed by the potential long-run benefits in the primary and the general election.
The big problem facing the anti-Trump movement right now is demoralization. There’s evidence that Trump did as well as he did in New York and the other liberal northeastern states because voters opposed to him threw in the towel — if you’re a voter in New York and you don’t like Trump but think his victory is inevitable, why would you bother to show up? As Sean Trende has noted, “it isn’t unusual for winners to run away with uncompetitive races, as opposing voters just decide that it isn’t worth it to cast their ballots.” This is a driver of Trump’s increasing margins of victory.
When Cruz upsets in Indiana – which I believe he will do – Fiorina will act as a force multiplier for his momentum and for reinvigorating resistance to Trump. For one, winning Indiana will be a Cruz comeback story. After Trump’s northeast victories and the “inevitability” story running wall-to-wall on cable TV, the new narrative will be the resilience of the #TheResistance, and Cruz will be its standard-bearer.
And his pick of Fiorina will be added to the long list of Cruz’s strengths: effective grassroots organization, a solid ground game, growing endorsements, savvy delegate recruitment, data-driven voter outreach, an unexpected deal with John Kasich – and now, the capacity to build a powerful team that includes one of the sharpest and most articulate women to ever enter politics. Cruz’s victory will be attributed, at least in part, to this VP pick. That means Fiorina’s voice will double the media opportunities for Cruz to leverage his victories.
Frankly, this strategy bets on the probability that naming his vice presidential pick this early will soon be recognized as strategic savvy. Pundits will point to this choice as a game-changing moment.
And Fiorina’s value-add only grows. After Indiana, Trump is in for more rough sledding in Nebraska a week later. The narrative of resistance will grow. Both Cruz and Fiorina can help spread the word.
By the time California arrives, Trump will have come off of a losing streak, and Fiorina will have helped salt his wounds. When Trump is wounded, he lashes out. And he will be lashing out at a woman who can fight back.
When Trump lashes out at women, as he did by insulting Heidi Cruz just before Wisconsin, Trump makes unforced errors. Yet again, there is no better voice to multiply the impact of those mistakes – and exploit Trump’s persistent weaknesses with women – than Carly Fiorina.
We haven’t even gotten to the general election, when the woman potentially a heartbeat away from the presidency in the Cruz administration can make the case against Hillary Clinton like no one else, and certainly no one Trump could name. I just can’t wait to see Fiorina expose Clinton for her failed policies, corruption, and incompetence – and I think a lot of Republican voters can’t wait, either. That means GOP voters will know: voting for Cruz now to stop Trump will let Fiorina act as a force multiplier yet again – against Clinton.