Did the Ted Cruz-John Kasich strategic-voting deal backfire in Indiana … or was it just a failure of the last resort? The question assumes that the strategy has failed, a conclusion we can’t know for sure until after tomorrow’s vote. A new survey from NBC News, the Wall Street Journal, and Marist certainly suggests that it hasn’t worked, at least:
Here’s another finding from our NBC/WSJ/Marist poll: 58% of likely Republican primary voters in Indiana say they disapprove of Cruz and Kasich teaming up to beat Trump in the Hoosier State, while 34% say they approve of the move. What’s more, only 22% consider the Cruz-Kasich alliance a major factor in deciding their vote, 15% say it’s a minor factor and 63% say it would play no factor at all. And if you remove Kasich from the race and reallocate his second-choice support in the NBC/WSJ/Marist poll, Trump still leads Cruz by double digits, 53%-42%. So, yes, it appears that Cruz-Kasich alliance — whereby Kasich promised not to campaign in Indiana to help Cruz, while Cruz promised to return the favor in Oregon and New Mexico — backfired. Big time.
Perhaps. Only 20% of voters considered it a “major factor” in their decision, with 14% calling it a “minor factor.” Would those voters have gone to Cruz otherwise? The polling trends before the Marvel Team-Up suggest not. The RCP aggregation for Indiana shows five polls besides the new Marist poll in the past month, and Trump has a 14.2-point lead over Cruz. The trend lines show Trump on the upswing in the last month as other candidates dropped out:
While the strategic deal didn’t help Cruz (or Kasich, for that matter), it’s far from clear that it backfired. Since November, Cruz has led in exactly one poll in the state, an NBC/WSJ poll in mid-February. The big impact in Indiana polling came from the consolidation of the field in mid-March, in which Trump benefited more than his opponents. As the chart above shows, that spike in Trump’s support took place well before the deal.
This does raise another question, however: why did Cruz and the #NeverTrump crowd put so much emphasis on Indiana in the first place? While Cruz has not explicitly stated that Indiana is must-win, his actions speak louder than his words. He waited until Indiana was at the center of national attention to cut his deal with Kasich, and he suddenly chose Carly Fiorina as his running mate with just days to go before Hoosiers made their way to the polling stations.
Trump’s working-class hero strategy appears to be holding the advantage even over Cruz’ organizational superiority. Indiana is a Rust Belt state where Trump’s positions on trade could be expected to resonate, and apparently has eclipsed Cruz’ commitment to conservative ideology. There is other good news in the poll for both Trump and Republicans, too, in the head-to-heads. Trump leads Hillary Clinton by seven points among registered voters in Indiana, 48/41. Cruz has the same lead but gets to a majority, 50/43, while Kasich has the best performance at 56/37. This suggests that Democrats are unlikely to pull off a Barack Obama-style surprise in Indiana, when he won the state in 2008 (but lost it in 2012).
That is the extent of the good news for Cruz and Kasich. Unless all of these polls are very, very wrong, the nomination may be Trump’s for the taking after tomorrow night.
Be sure to watch our live coverage of the results tomorrow night on a special Election Night episode of The Ed Morrissey Show, where Katie Pavlich and I will co-anchor the broadcast on Facebook Live and Ustream, starting at 6:30 ET.