Coming soon to Team Cruz in Indiana: Jeb Bush and/or Mitt Romney?

The most noteworthy bit from a terrific piece by Tim Alberta on why Indiana is so important and how Cruz is planning (hoping?) to win. Put simply, Trump’s going to get close enough to 1,237 in the other remaining states that he simply must be denied most of Indiana’s 57 delegates. If he surprises Cruz there, his odds of winning on the first ballot leap. Which means, for anti-Trumpers, it’s all hands on deck.

Alberta cites private polling showing Trump and Cruz each stuck in the low 30s there right now. Jump ball:

National Review has learned that the senator will hold a one-hour private meeting with Indiana governor Mike Pence prior to this Thursday’s Indianapolis GOP spring dinner, where he is scheduled to deliver a speech and sit at the governor’s table. The two first discussed these plans on a phone call last Friday, sources say.

Cruz would love to lock down Pence’s endorsement, knowing that the governor’s network could lend him a significant organizational edge in the state — just as Scott Walker’s did in Wisconsin. But sources say Pence, who loathes Trump, nonetheless has deep concerns about wading into the presidential race amid his own fight for re-election. If Pence doesn’t come on board, Cruz’s team is planning to deploy its next best option: Walker himself, who is a known commodity in Indiana and will likely be used as a surrogate there.

He won’t be alone. There is preliminary talk of Cruz assembling a high-profile team of GOP surrogates and bringing them to Indiana, according to sources familiar with the Cruz campaign’s internal deliberations. The goal would be to project unprecedented party unity against Trump with a roster of supporters that, in addition to familiar faces such as Walker and Carly Fiorina, could include Jeb Bush or even Mitt Romney.

Is that what last night’s surprisingly upbeat Cruz speech was about? Sounding more like a traditional general-election candidate in order to encourage establishment Republicans to unite with him now? In any case, per Alberta, Cruz and his team are all-in in Indiana — both the campaign and pro-Cruz Super PACs are planning an all-out GOTV effort to try to blunt Trump’s momentum after his inevitable big wins in the east next week, and some outside groups are planning ads in the state to try to drive Trump’s numbers down. Emphasis on “some,” though. The later it gets in the campaign, the less cash there is from big donors to go around. A few more big wins by Trump in the mid-Atlantic might even convince some anti-Trump donors that Cruz’s cause is lost, which will damage the Indiana effort. Another X factor for Cruz is that Indiana doesn’t have the same anti-Trump talk-radio establishment that Wisconsin did to drive right-wing opinion against him. All of which is to say that Cruz’s media advantage in WI, paid and earned, may have to be made up for in IN with organization and high-profile surrogates. That starts with Pence and runs through Bush and Romney and lord knows who else. Marco Rubio? Rand Paul? Maybe even George W. Bush, who’s made no secret of his disdain for Cruz? I’m just spitballing, but that’s the point — anyone who’s anyone who wants to stop Trump has every reason to get off the fence and show up for Cruz in Indiana. It’s the last chance (until California, of course).

Speaking of people who need to stop Trump, is there any good answer to this point?

If New York settled anything last night, it’s the fact that Cruz needs the “insufferable” John Kasich around in blue states to siphon off delegates here and there from Trump. He’s too weak among centrist Republicans to do it himself. Kasich is ahead of Cruz in Maryland and Connecticut right now and is about even with him in Pennsylvania; I doubt Cruz could or would bring himself to ask his supporters to vote strategically for Kasich in at least some of those states after complaining for weeks about Kasich staying in the race, but not competing hard would seem to be an obvious move. (We may have reached the stage of the primary, in fact, where Cruz’s own voters are sufficiently well educated about the state of the race that they’ll understand they should vote strategically for Kasich even without being asked.) But if Cruzers should vote Kasich in blue states, why on earth wouldn’t Kasich fans vote Cruz in Indiana? Cruz will certainly outpoll Kasich there given his strength in neighboring Wisconsin and, like Stevens says, Kasich needs a Trump loss in Indiana as badly as Cruz does in order to force a convention. Kasich has every reason to get out of dodge and cede the field to Cruz. Will he?

And if he does, will he and Cruz take Dave Wasserman’s advice and stage a coordinated strategy in California? If ever we’re going to see two candidates in this race colluding out and out, California’s the place. It’s big enough and diverse enough that it makes sense for Cruz and Kasich to divvy up redder and bluer districts between them, with their voters in those districts voting strategically. It’ll be the last primary of the campaign and Trump’s chances of clinching will hinge on performing well there, which means Cruz and Kasich will have the same incentive for him to do poorly. There’s no reason for them not to do it — unless, that is, Kasich is planning to endorse Trump at some point despite his endless denials. Which is how I’d bet this unholy fiasco ends.

As I said up top, Indiana matters only because Trump’s path to 1,237 is so narrow but the great (as yet) unanswerable question is exactly how narrow it is. Does he need 1,237 bound delegates before the convention or can he finish with, say, 1,200 in the expectation that he’ll find another 37 somewhere among the pool of unbound delegates? Philip Klein did his best to guesstimate how few delegates Trump could earn in the primaries and still probably win on the first ballot in Cleveland. His answer: 1,200. The reason is that, even though there are a few hundred unbound delegates that Trump could recruit to get him over the finish line on the first ballot, many of those delegates come from states like Colorado and Wyoming — i.e. states where Cruz has been cleaning up in getting his loyalists installed as delegates. There are, says Klein, really only 117 or so unclaimed unbound delegates. Could Trump persuade a third of those people to support him? Sure, probably, and a third is all he’d need if he finishes the primaries with 1,200. If he finishes with 1,150, though, then he’d need two-thirds of that group. That seems much harder given that Team Cruz will be going all out to lock them down. Indiana, remember, has 57 delegates at stake, almost exactly the difference between the very doable 1,200 mark and the probably undoable 1,150. Lesson: Indiana is very important.

Update: Indiana is very important, and Trump knows it:

Donald J. Trump met privately with Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana at his residence on Wednesday afternoon, two weeks before the primary in a state that Senator Ted Cruz’s campaign sees as crucial to its efforts to capture the Republican presidential nomination.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence were joined by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a supporter of Mr. Trump and a former head of the Republican Governors Association, according to an aide to Mr. Trump.

The Times interprets the meeting correctly, I think: It’s not about Trump trying to win Pence’s endorsement (note what Alberta says above about Pence “loathing” Trump) but rather about trying to convince him not to endorse Cruz. I wonder if it was cordial or involved any threats about Trump possibly campaigning against Pence in the gubernatorial race if he sides with Cruz. Or maybe Pence fully intends to endorse Cruz and was just being polite in hearing Trump out. As my pal Just Karl pointed out to me, he’s planning to meet with all three candidates before the primary.

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