Yeah, the problem is that the guy who’s several hundred delegates ahead of Cruz right now would doubtless agree. If both Trump and Cruz are willing to purchase Kasich’s endorsement with promises of a cabinet position, why would Kasich accept the offer from the man who’s in second place?
Real talk, and I say this as a Cruz supporter: Sketch me a scenario where Cruz wins not only the nomination this year but the general election. Winning the nomination is comparatively easy — Trump makes it to Cleveland with 1,100 delegates or so, he can’t find another 137 unbound delegates to support him on the first ballot, so he ends up losing to Cruz on the second or third ballot. At that point, most of Trump’s hardcore supporters bolt the party, convinced that their guy’s been robbed by the establishment of what was rightly his. Essentially, they end up as #NeverCruzers. Cruz limps into the general election needing to replace roughly 20 percent of his own party’s voters, and because he’s a conservative ideologue, he’d conceivably struggle more than Trump would to put purple states in play. #NeverTrumpers are right that Trump polls terribly against Hillary (worse than Cruz does, it’s true), but Trump can and will move to the center as nominee in ways that Cruz won’t. Trump is also superb at keeping his opponents on defense, which makes it more likely that he’ll choose the ground on which the general election is fought. And of course Trump has already turned around bad polls once before; remember, when he first announced his candidacy, his favorable ratings among Republicans were net negative.
I still think he’d probably lose and might lose catastrophically, enough to put the House in play (especially if the #NeverTrump faction is larger than expected). But you can at least imagine how he might win — continued media dominance, unusual appeal to working-class voters for a Republican, and maybe some game-changing act of chaos somewhere, like a major terror attack, that tilts the electorate towards authoritarianism. How might Cruz win, though? He doesn’t have the same working-class appeal, he’s apt to end up in the familiar general-election role of playing defense once the media decrees him a frightening conservative “extremist,” and he’s a constitutionalist, not an authoritarian. If anything, I think foreign-policy chaos might benefit Hillary in a contest against Cruz: Since neither one is selling themselves as a strong-man, voters might look instead at who has more experience in handling foreign threats. The former Secretary of State, who spent twice as much time in the Senate as Cruz has, would probably be the pick — the Libya intervention and Benghazi notwithstanding.
I want to be wrong about all of that but I don’t think I am. How does Cruz pull a rabbit out of the hat with Trump’s fans staying home in November? The only thing that might get them to reconsider would be if Trump himself stumped for Cruz, but the odds of that happening after the nomination is “stolen” from him in Cleveland are basically zero. If anything, Trump might end up talking up Hillary’s foreign-policy credentials just to stick the knife in Cruz. They are old friends, after all.
One more thing: Is Cruz sure that he wants Kasich out of the race, especially with blue states coming up that award their delegates proportionally? Ed flagged this data from the new Quinnipiac poll earlier but it’s worth noting again. Here’s what you get when Kasich voters are asked to choose between Trump and Cruz:
Trump gains slightly on Cruz in every demographic except very conservative voters. To deny Trump the nomination in a floor fight, I don’t know if it’ll be enough for Cruz to simply hold him below 1,237 delegates. If Kasich drops out tomorrow and Cruz goes on to lose head to head against Trump in most of the remaining states, it’ll further undercut the argument that he deserves to be the nominee instead of Trump. For maximum impact on the delegates, he needs to finish big, demonstrating that once Republicans were given a binary choice between Trump and Cruz, they preferred Cruz. What if he can’t do that?