Don’t believe the conventional wisdom that the Cruz-Kasich deal is a strategic misfire, one that comes too late in the process to make a difference. It’s a critical development in a state where there’s an anti-Trump majority that’s divided between Cruz and home-state neighbor Kasich. The same consolidating tactics allowed Cruz to transform a close Wisconsin race into a blowout in his favor. Even without a gubernatorial endorsement (Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is unlikely to jump on the #StopTrump train) and a unified talk-radio front against Trump, all it takes for Cruz to benefit is a narrow victory. And if past is prologue, Trump’s band of support in Midwestern states is consistently narrow: He took 39 percent of the vote in Illinois, 36 percent in Michigan, 36 percent in Ohio, and 35 percent in Wisconsin. He’s now polling at 39 percent in Indiana, according to the RealClearPolitics average, before the cavalry comes in for Cruz.
Anti-Trump groups such as the Club for Growth and Our Principles PAC are now pouring millions into Indiana to broadcast a singular stop-Trump, pro-Cruz message. Unlike New York and the Northeastern primary states, it’s inexpensive to air ads in most of Indiana’s media markets. Outside groups have mostly held their fire since Wisconsin. They’re coming back with a vengeance in Indiana, with anti-Trump groups outspending pro-Trump groups by a 4-to-1 ratio. If the battle for the nomination was defined by momentum, it’s fair to assume Trump could consolidate support with his Northeastern sweep. But this race has been about everything else. (Trump won big on Super Tuesday, only to be dealt caucus setbacks days later; he dominated in pivotal big-state primaries on March 15 only to flail in Wisconsin.) The regional differences in Trump’s support have been significant, and it’s more likely that tactics will define the Indiana primary more than Trump’s recent string of home-field victories.
And yes, calls for strategic voting have worked in the primary process in crucial instances. In the run-up to the Ohio primary, Marco Rubio called on his supporters in the state to back Kasich. Rubio only won a tiny 2.3 percent of the GOP vote, a clear sign that most of his supporters heeded his calls. After Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told anti-Trump Republicans to back Cruz, not Kasich, the Ohio governor’s support collapsed throughout the state.