The first clue is that he’ll make the announcement in a radio appearance with Greg Garrison, a conservative talk-show host. The second is that the news was leaked to Jonah Goldberg, also a conservative and someone who’s complained publicly about Pence dragging his feet in endorsing Cruz. And the third is that Pence reportedly “loathes” Trump, and Kasich isn’t competing in Indiana anymore. If this isn’t a Cruz endorsement, it’ll be a top contender for political fake-out of the year.
On the other hand, Trump praised Pence just two days ago as a “great guy” and said he believed Pence would choose not to endorse in the race. Does Trump know something?
Cuomo asked Trump, “How about Mike Pence? Have you reached out for the governor’s endorsement yet?”
Trump affirmed. “Yes, the governor’s a great guy. I met with him. He may not endorse. I don’t think he’ll endorse anybody, actually, and he may endorse us. I don’t know. He’s a great guy. He’s become—you know, he’s done a very, very good job as governor and he’s a great guy. I don’t know if we’ll get his endorsement. I don’t know.”
Cuomo followed up, “Endorse Cruz? You don’t think he’ll come out and endorse if it’s not you?”
“No, I don’t think so,” replied Trump.
It’ll be fun to juxtapose that quote with the inevitable “Mike Pence is a loser who’s killing his state” Trump Twitter tantrum an hour from now. Anyway, why would Pence decide to finally take the plunge after holding out on endorsing so far, obviously for fear of alienating Trump’s Republican supporters ahead of his reelection bid for governor? Ironically, I think it’s because Cruz’s chances have diminished that he feels better about doing it. That’s counterintuitive — politicians like to endorse winners yet Trump just won a multi-state landslide on Tuesday while Cruz now trails in multiple polls of Indiana, including in his own internal polling. But that actually makes things convenient for Pence. The more Trump and his fans need a strong showing in Indiana, the more Pence endorsing Cruz would be seen as a momentous betrayal that might potentially cost Trump the nomination on the first ballot, and the more of a backlash to Pence there might be. But Trump doesn’t need Indiana anymore; that’s the significance of Tuesday night’s big win, especially his success in getting his loyalists elected as unbound delegates in Pennsylvania. His position is so strong right now that he could take an “ohfer” in Indiana next week and still clinch before the convention with a strong showing in California. And if it’s true that his mid-Atlantic momentum has begun cascading across the party nationally, giving him a boost even in states like Indiana that are supposed to favor Cruz demographically, then Trump might win Indiana notwithstanding Pence’s endorsement of Cruz. If he does, how many Trumpers will much care that Pence didn’t back him before the primary? What did it end up costing Trump? All Pence needs to do is be complimentary of Trump — amazing charisma! shaken up the party! shows that Republican voters don’t want business as usual! — and affirm that he’ll support him as nominee and most pro-Trump GOPers in Indiana will vote for him anyway this fall.
Meanwhile, by backing Cruz, Pence will satisfy the conservative base that elected him and is currently looking hard at “true conservative” politicians across the party to see if they’re willing to put anything on the line for Cruz. I’ll be surprised if he opts to campaign with Cruz this weekend or do anything more than a check-the-box endorsement this morning, but I don’t think anyone’s expecting him to. The odds of Cruz losing Indiana by double digits are, I’d guess, better than the odds of him winning the state outright at this point and Pence’s endorsement can’t be worth more than a point or two. Go figure that he wouldn’t want to associate too closely and publicly with a campaign on that trajectory. If I’m wrong about all of this, though, and Pence is actually about to announce that he won’t endorse in the primary, that would be a big deal. Conservatives, already badly bruised by Trump’s looming nomination, would see it as an act of cowardice and capitulation in the crunch by a former grassroots star. It would be viewed as a bookend with Christie’s endorsement of Trump, one prominent governor having signaled the party’s initial willingness to accept him as nominee and another having signed the de facto terms of final surrender. (Christie, in fact, attended the recent meeting between Pence and Trump, doubtless to lean on him.) I think Pence will do the right thing. It’s simply too risky for him not to. And that’s the word on social media as I write this:
Mike Pence will endorse @tedcruz today, a source familiar with his plans tells me.
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) April 29, 2016
Update: As expected, he endorsed Cruz — with some careful praise for Trump too:
Pence praising Trump to the hilt before endorsing Cruz.
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) April 29, 2016
Pence: "I like and respect all 3 candidates…I particularly want to commend Donald Trump" for giving a voice to ppl who are frustrated
— Jessica Taylor (@JessicaTaylor) April 29, 2016
Update: Is this really even an endorsement?
Pence after endorsing Cruz: I urge everyone to make up their own minds.
— Dan Balz (@danbalz) April 29, 2016