The campaigns of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) leaked to the press Sunday that they’re teaming up on a campaign strategy and it sure looks like a #NeverTrump tactic:
Cruz and Kasich are still competing for the GOP nomination, but perhaps more so in the spirit of divide-and-conquer the Donald. The Cruz campaign will focus on Indiana ahead of its May 3 primary while Kasich steps back to campaign in Oregon and New Mexico, whose primaries are May 17 and June 7, respectively.
USA Today goes on to quote campaign managers from both campaigns including these details from the Kasich camp:
“Keeping Trump from winning a plurality in Indiana is critical to keeping him under 1,237 bound delegates before Cleveland,” Kasich’s campaign said Sunday. “We are very comfortable with our delegate position in Indiana already, and given the current dynamics of the primary there, we will shift our campaign’s resources west and give the Cruz campaign a clear path in Indiana.”
Donald Trump took to Twitter to respond in his typical, low-key fashion:
The man used ALL CAPS when spelling out “desperation” in that tweet. You know he’s serious when he uses all caps.
In a written statement, Trump compared the political move to collusion in the business world:
Collusion is often illegal in many other industries and yet these two Washington insiders have had to revert to collusion in order to stay alive. They are mathematically dead and this act only shows, as puppets of donors and special interests, how truly weak they and their campaigns are. I have brought millions of voters into the Republican primary system and have received many millions of votes more than Cruz or Kasich.
The Sunday night announcement came from both campaigns within minutes of each other. CNN calls the announcement “extraordinary.” Is it? I’d venture to say it’s only extraordinary in that the campaigns have actually announced the strategy instead of just carrying it out and keeping it private.
We only have to look back to the 2008 GOP primary to see a similar dynamic. Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) already knew by late January that he wasn’t going to be the nominee despite his surprise win in the Iowa Caucus that year. But he stayed in the race and everyone knew why, even if he didn’t issue a press statement.
He stayed in to stop Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) from issuing a serious challenge to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and it worked.
Politico even took to calling Huckabee the “Mitt-killer” at the time. And they were right. If the choice for Republicans heading into the Southern, Super Tuesday primaries was a binary decision between McCain and Romney, Romney stood a chance. But throwing Southern Baptist pastor Huckabee into the mix cynically divided the evangelical and social conservative vote and greatly aided McCain who was never really a natural choice for those constituencies.
So know Cruz voters have to face the reality that he is being aided by a pro-Common core, pathway-to-citizenship establishment Republican to stop his rival. And Kasich supporters have to swallow the fact that their man is siding up with the most-hated conservative in the US Senate.
So where is this strategy coming from? Maybe the remaining non-Trump candidates are working with leaders of the #NeverTrump movement.
Several days ago The Hill noted a public spat between the Kasich camp and some of the #NeverTrump players. The anti-Trump movement specifically pointed to Kasich’s prospects in the Hoosier state and criticized him for giving Trump an opening to win the state in a three-way race:
Indiana is ground zero for the current round of disputes.
There is little polling, but many Republicans believe Cruz has the best shot of defeating Trump in the state. A WTHR-HPI survey released Friday backed that up, with Trump taking 36 percent support over Cruz at 31 percent and Kasich at 22 percent.
The anti-Trump forces are frustrated that Kasich is making a play for the state, worrying that he will suck support away from Cruz and open the door for Trump to win more delegates than he should.
The criticism of Kasich’s Indiana strategy continued on Twitter:
Don't understand Kasich logic of competing in Indiana. He can't win but can help Trump, greatly reducing any convention option. Why?
— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) April 20, 2016
Stevens is a former Romney strategist and Trump critic.
Fast-forward several days and Kasich announces he’s pulling out to allow Cruz to have his best shot at stopping Trump. Did #NeverTrump influence him? Sure looks like it.