Kasich to campaign in Utah, effectively helping Trump deny Cruz delegates

Sheer insanity unless Kasich is already eyeing some sort of deal with Trump to make him nominee, in which case it makes perfect sense. Kasich actually announced this campaign swing in Utah two days before he won Ohio earlier this week, but a lot of people said a lot of things they didn’t really mean — ahem — before the votes were counted on Tuesday night. The obvious move for Kasich if he’s supposedly playing for a brokered convention is to look hard at the blue states left on the map, which should be more receptive to his brand of politics, pick a few and go all-in there in the name of trying to pull delegates from Trump. New York and California are obvious targets.

As it is, if he really intends to follow through on this, I don’t know how else to read it except as further evidence that he’s in the tank for Trump:

Utah awards its delegates proportionally unless the statewide winner takes 50 percent of the vote, in which case it becomes winner-take-all. It’s a deep red state, which is good for Cruz, and it has a famously large Mormon population — which is also good for Cruz given Mormon opposition to Trump. He’s got a shot at 50 percent, which would mean Trump leaving the state with zero delegates. That’d be a nice achievement now that the campaign has devolved into a pure game of holding Trump under 1,237 delegates and forcing a floor fight in Cleveland. Here’s the important part, though: If Kasich is serious about the convention then it’s to his benefit to have Cruz win big in Utah. The alternative is splitting delegates with Trump, and every delegate that Trump earns from now through June 7th makes the odds of a brokered convention a bit less likely. Simple math:

Kasich isn’t going to come anywhere hear 1,237 delegates himself. Even if he won every remaining delegate available in every state the rest of the way, he’d still be short of a majority. That’s how far behind he is. As such, it’s more important to him to keep Trump’s numbers down than to build his own numbers up since winning a few extra delegates here and there really does nothing to enhance his case for being named the nominee. Force a convention, then take your chances: That’s Kasich’s strategy, and that strategy is best served by doing whatever it takes to keep Trump from winning a majority. If anything, Kasich should urge his supporters in Utah to vote for Cruz rather than compete there and risk splitting the anti-Trump vote.

And no, this isn’t the same as Cruz competing in Florida to deny Rubio votes even though that meant helping Trump there. Cruz had a rational, if ruthless, goal in that case: Knock Rubio out, winnow the field, and consolidate his conservative support. That’s the only way to stop Trump before the convention. He helped Trump win a battle because he thought it would lead to Trump losing the war. If Kasich was on the verge of knocking Cruz out and becoming the last Trump standing, it’d make sense for him to make the same sort of play in Utah. But he isn’t. On the contrary, if Trump is going to be denied a majority, Kasich needs Cruz to succeed in states where he himself has little chance of piling up delegates. (That would be risky if Cruz had a decent chance of getting 1,237 delegates, but he doesn’t.) And Cruz needs Kasich to succeed in urban blue-state districts where Kasich is more of a threat to Trump than Cruz is. They’re tactical allies whether they like it or not — if, that is, the goal is forcing a contested convention.

But what if it isn’t? A Twitter buddy reminded me last night that Kasich’s decision to pass on the Fox News debate on Monday night because Trump wouldn’t be there is inexplicable if he’s actually trying to win. Even without Trump in the room, he and Cruz could share a big platform for two hours, politely disagreeing with each other as needed and spending most of their time lambasting Trump for his various policy and political offenses. There’s no way to explain why a badly trailing candidate fresh off a big win who’s otherwise been an afterthought in the race would deny himself a stage — unless he’s not really trying to win. If Kasich is already planning to sell out to Trump then skipping the debate is logical. Just as competing in Utah and trying to hold Cruz under 50 percent by splitting the anti-Trump vote is logical.

The only way I can kinda sorta make sense of what Kasich is doing that doesn’t lead back to him being in the tank for Trump is if he’s worried about Rule 40 and is trying to build leverage with Cruz for the coming fight over that. Read this post from yesterday to see why. If Cruz takes 50 percent in Utah and all of the state’s delegates, that would give him another of the eight states he needs in order to qualify for the nomination under Rule 40. If Trump and Cruz both end up meeting the eight-state threshold then they may conspire to try to change the rule at the convention so that any candidate who didn’t win a majority of delegates in eight states is barred from becoming nominee. That would kill Kasich’s chances at the convention in one shot. So Kasich could be playing in Utah in order to try to deny Cruz a majority there. Or he could be playing there to inflict as much delegate pain on Cruz as possible in order to force him to make a deal of some kind. But … what deal? If Cruz agrees not to join Trump in changing Rule 40, would Kasich agree to cede red states to him? Is he trying to pile up delegates in order to become Cruz’s VP? A Cruz/Kasich ticket would be a true unity ticket in that it would represent the two wings of the party, but Kasich’s brand of centrism seems a better fit for Trump. And Trump, of course, is much more likely to become nominee than Cruz is — even if he doesn’t get to 1,237:

According to the Associated Press count, Trump has 678 delegates, and needs 1,237. He’s 559 delegates away from winning the nomination, and 1,059 remain. Can Trump win 53 percent of the remaining delegates?

Even if you feel confident in saying “no, Trump won’t win that many delegates” – and yeah, that’s a high bar to clear going forward – so far Trump has won about 46 percent of the delegates available so far. (He’s done so with 37 percent of the votes cast in Republican primaries and caucuses so far.) Assume Trump maintains his current level of support throughout the rest of the process, and he’ll get 46 percent of the remaining 1,059 delegates. That gives him 492 more delegates.

Trump would enter the convention in Cleveland with 1,170 delegates, just 67 short of what he needs.

Between the hundreds of unbound delegates available on the first ballot and the hundreds pledged to Kasich, it’s a cinch that a deal for a Trump/Kasich ticket would shake loose 67 of them. If I were Cruz, I’d ask Kasich to name his terms and see if there’s literally anything he can promise him to gain his support. Because if he doesn’t — or if Kasich is already angling to sign on with Trump, as seems increasingly likely — it’s all but over.

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