Cruz’s Last Line of Defense

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 18-
  • Kasich supporters will decide Indiana
  • Indiana could decide the nomination
  • Sanders tries to boost morale

Last week’s results have put us in a situation where the Republican nomination might be decided tomorrow. If Ted Cruz stops Donald Trump in Indiana, he has several other wins to look forward to before a final, decisive contest in California. If Trump wins Indiana, it’s probably all over, and Republicans will have winnowed a promising field down to nominate the most unpopular candidate in the history of presidential polling.

Hoosier GOP nominee? Trump’s strong performance in last week’s Acela primary was a huge overperformance in terms of vote, and a modest overperformance in terms of bound and favorable delegates. But add it to his overperformance in New York the week before, and you essentially add an extra small state (about the size of Delaware) to Trump’s total.

This is why a lot of people are now discussing Trump as inevitable. In fact, he still isn’t given the math and reasonable assumptions, but the effort to stop him is now truly at its last line of defense.

Cruz’s first do-or-die moment now comes earlier than expected, in Indiana.

This is why you saw Cruz try to shake up the race by selecting a running mate. The move has no obvious drawbacks, and three apparent benefits.

First, coming as it did last Wednesday, Cruz’s announcement distracted immediately from Trump’s strong day on the Acela Corridor. This is actually something Trump has mastered as a candidate — stomp on bad news with good news that changes the subject. Of course, this works better when you have a delegate lead than when you trail as Cruz does, but it still works.

Second, this will likely encourage women who have reservations about Cruz to give him another look. Trump’s favorability with women is simply appalling, but Cruz hasn’t always been in the best position to take advantage of that. Fiorina could well help him there.

Third, depending on what happens in Indiana, Fiorina’s participation could help Cruz in California. He might well have to win the Golden State — a longshot, but still a possibility — in order to force a convention. Fiorina, who won her primary in California for the 2010 Senate race against Barbara Boxer, is at least known to the voters there and could well help. But Cruz will need some successes now for California to matter.

Still, let’s not confuse theory with reality. Cruz must win Indiana on Tuesday, or else his bid for the presidency is over. So, for that matter, is John Kasich’s bid. The only way Kaisch’s super-longshot bid for the presidency can be saved is if his supporters in Indiana vote for Cruz. And in fact, it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, because if they do vote for Cruz then they at least leave open the possibility that Indiana’s Kasich-friendly delegate slate will have a chance to vote for Kasich beginning with the second ballot at the convention. But the fact that so many voters continue to say they will vote for Kasich is a serious blow against the idea of strategic voting working in this election.

The fact that Kasich hasn’t gone all the way and encouraged his backers to vote for Cruz is a bit curious, given that all of Kasich’s hopes lie with a Cruz victory. Such an arrangement did work out for Kasich when Marco Rubio encouraged his supporters to vote Kasich in Ohio. But resistance to Trump could well end on Tuesday as a result of a split opposition.

If Trump wins Indiana, it’s basically over. And it means that Hillary Clinton instantly becomes a heavy, double-digit favorite and every down-ballot Republican in America becomes much more endangered than before. This is a reminder of just how high the stakes really will be on Tuesday.

Who will win? The polls diverge widely. The arguments for the ones showing the race very close include the decision by Gov. Mike Pence to endorse after all, which is helpful to Cruz and could also be taken as a sign that victory is possible. Cruz and anti-Trump allies have been up on the air almost unceasingly, and Cruz has been working the state without any interludes elsewhere.

But this could also be a sign of desperation. What’s more, the Kasich supporters who are supposed to make all the difference seem content to let his campaign end.  By evening Tuesday, Trump may be locked in as the nominee (not mathematically, of course), and Clinton thus locked in as the next president. 

Delegate wars: Although it is is an open question whether it will matter for the actual vote for the nominee at the convention, Cruz continues to snap up delegates. It has long been clear that Trump’s only hope is to win on the first ballot, but that fact becomes more and more obvious as the delegates keep rolling.

On Saturday, Cruz managed to install loyalists in Trump-pledged delegate slots in Arizona, South Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas, and Virginia. This comes on top of earlier successes in Louisiana, Georgia, and almost everywhere else. The noteworthy exception is Massachusetts, possibly the only place where Trump has managed to wrangle other candidates’ delegates.

Even if Trump does get the delegates he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot in Cleveland, it could still be interesting to see the consequences of Cruz’s dramatic success in stacking the delegates. One example: Trump has openly discussed watering down various aspects of the party’s conservative platform, including on abortion. Cruz might well prevent him from tinkering at will. He might also attain sufficient control of the rules committee to dimiminish the pageantry of a Trump convention, which the presumptive nominee typically controls with an iron fist.

Again, this may not seem that important in the grand scheme of things, but the convention is about more than just choosing a nominee, and its other aspects are worth watching as well.

Democrats: Hillary Clinton has the nomination locked up — and Indiana’s result will likely confirm this. This will be the case even if she loses on Tuesday, but she is expected to win.

This makes Bernie Sanders’ insistence that he will fight on for a contested convention seem somewhat puzzling.

It might mean something if Sanders can force Clinton’s victory at convention to depend on the Superdelegates who support her. But the idea that he can wrangle any significant number of superdelegates from her is rather bizarre.

Put yourself in the position of a party mandarin who has already endorsed Clinton. She is going to be the nominee, and your earlier decision to endorse her demonstrates that you don’t have any qualms in principle about backing her. So why do you switch now, right when it’s obvious she’s going to win the nomination?

This is most likely an attempt by Sanders to retain or regain some relevance in the contest — a morale-builder for his supporters. There is a real danger at this point that many will give up hope, and that would cause Sanders to suffer a drop-off in later contests.

Sander has earlier made noises that his candidacy might finally be just an ideas campaign, and that he understands he has no chance of upsetting Clinton. Sanders appears to recognize this as a mistake, and is now recommitting to his supporters with the proposition that their vote still matters, even now.

In reality, their vote doesn’t matter any more — yet their votes already have made a difference. Sanders has pushed Clinton far to the left of where she would like to be. If Republicans hadn’t set themselves on a course of party suicide this year, it might have even made a difference in the election outcome. Instead, the perfect storm has arisen to give Clinton a mandate to govern from the Left after she easily defeats Trump in the general election.

Indiana-Senate: Hoosiers will also be voting on Tuesday to replace Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., who is retiring. Former Rep. Baron Hill, D, will be the Democratic nominee, but Republicans have a much more competitive and interesting primary. Marlin Stutzman, the conservative congressman from the state’s northeastern Third District, enjoys the support of the Club for Growth. But he is expected to come up short against the establishment favorite, Rep. Todd Young of the south-central Ninth District.