What I mean is, isn’t the “alliance” really just a face-saving way for Kasich to get out of Cruz’s way in Indiana? Look at the math. In Indiana, the statewide winners gets 30 delegates while another 27 are portioned out via district. Trump is ahead in all three polls taken there the past week, but his lead in each case is single digits. In all three, Cruz would vault ahead of him if a majority of Kasich’s voters swung behind him. In other words, Kasich backing Cruz in Indiana conceivably will make a huge difference in the outcome of the race and could deny Trump dozens of otherwise gettable delegates in the process. Winning the state 40/35 over Cruz, as the last poll had it, could mean upwards of 40-45 delegates for him (depending on how each individual district goes). Losing the state 45/40 to Cruz could mean exiting Indiana with fewer than 10 delegates. That margin of 30-35 could very well be the difference between Trump clinching on the first ballot and falling short.
What does Kasich get in return for this act of strategic magnanimity? Well, he gets a clear path in Oregon and New Mexico from Cruz. On paper, that looks like an even trade: Indiana has 57 delegates at stake whereas Oregon and New Mexico combined have 52. But there’s a difference. Oregon and New Mexico each award their delegates proportionally, which means Trump is walking out of both states with delegates whether there’s a Cruz-Kasich alliance or not. The difference between a Trump 40, Kasich 35, Cruz 20 outcome and a Kasich 48, Trump 45, Cruz 5 outcome is something like … five to 10 delegates. If Kasich wins one or both states outright, I suppose that’s worth something to him at the convention as a potential nominee, as he’d no longer be the guy who won his home state and nowhere else. But how much is it worth really? “Not only did I win Ohio, I won Oregon too!” C’mon. His delegate total would be slightly higher than it otherwise would have been, but Kasich’s total is so meager right now that he still trails Marco Rubio, who left the race more than a month ago. Ten delegates isn’t going to make him any more nominate-able.
Giving Oregon and New Mexico to Kasich can be justified on the basis that every delegate denied Trump makes the chances of a second ballot in Cleveland that much greater, which is fair enough but which raises the question of why he and Cruz would be coordinating on penny-ante delegate hauls like that when they could be coordinating on the big prize, California. If you want to kill Trump’s chances on the first ballot, form an alliance in Cali immediately and get the word out, region by region, of who anti-Trumpers should be voting for in each. Cruz plays better in rural areas, Kasich plays better in most urban ones. Instead the two campaigns are screwing around with OR and NM. Why? The answer, I think, is simple: What Kasich really gets out of the “alliance” is just a pretext to symbolically withdraw from Indiana in hopes that Cruz will win the state and improve the odds of a brokered convention. Without the alliance, if he had declared unilaterally “I’m not contesting Indiana in hopes that Sen. Cruz will win,” his voters would have taken that as a sign that he was giving up on the race. He needed a way to signal to them that he was still in it to win it in Cleveland while also helping to clear a path for Cruz in Indiana; the solution was to get Cruz to cede the field to him reciprocally in two states where an alliance doesn’t really matter. The reason a similar deal wasn’t struck in California (yet), I assume, is because Team Cruz isn’t convinced yet that they can’t compete head-to-head there with Trump. Cruz might get on a roll if he wins Indiana and surge in California’s polls, which would mean that he doesn’t need Kasich’s help. He made this deal solely because an open field in Indiana is hugely important to him — and to Kasich, whose own slim chances at becoming nominee now rest on Cruz’s success the rest of the way.
One question, though: If you’re going to push an alliance, why push it half-assedly?
Kasich just said Indiana voters should vote for him. He's just not spending resources in the state. Deal already falling apart?
— Steve Peoples (@sppeoples) April 25, 2016
Some righties are grousing this morning that the alliance should have been kept a secret. Kasich could quietly refuse to compete in Indiana while Cruz could quietly do the same in Oregon and New Mexico, and voters would react accordingly. That way, Trump wouldn’t get to scream about “collusion” and a “rigged system.” I think that’s too clever by half. The point of the alliance is to drive each man’s voters towards the other in states where the latter has the best chance to win. But some voters aren’t paying enough attention to know what they’re supposed to do strategically; others might be tempted to vote strategically but refrain out of dislike for the other candidate unless their own guy gives them a nudge. NBC noted this morning that turning Kasich voters into Cruz voters might not be easy:
Two, it’s not a sure thing that all of Kasich’s voters in Indiana will support Cruz. According to a Fox poll released over the weekend — which showed Trump leading Cruz in the Hoosier State by eight points, 41%-33% — 53% of Kasich voters said Cruz would be their second choice, while 22% said it would be Trump. So without Kasich in the equation, the Indiana contest becomes much closer. But it doesn’t guarantee a win for Cruz.
The harder Kasich shoves his voters in Indiana towards Cruz, the harder it is for Trump. But he’s not shoving. He’s not even telling them not to vote for him. He should be selling this alliance by noting that a vote for Cruz in IN is effectively a vote for Kasich since it increases the odds of reaching their mutual goal, a floor fight in Cleveland. Instead he’s taking the worst aspect of the “secret alliance” approach, i.e. the possibility that voters won’t vote the way they’re supposed to, and grafting it onto the “public alliance” approach, which Trump will excoriate as a form of corruption. If he and Cruz are running a “Stop Trump” campaign the rest of the way, they might as well own it. They’re going to face various problems from it; they might as well do their best to get all the benefits too.
Exit question: Has Huckabee seen the head-to-head general election polling yet? It’s awfully hard to argue against a convention if your top goal is stopping Hillary.
Cruz, Kasich join forces to stop Trump. I wish they wanted to stop Hillary and much as they did the Republican who is beating both of them.
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) April 25, 2016