Ted Cruz and John Kasich announced Sunday that they would be conspiring to impede Donald Trump’s path to the nomination. Per the agreement, the Cruz campaign will cede Oregon and New Mexico, while the Kasich campaign will drop out of Indiana. Leaving aside all of the questions about the potential efficacy of such a plan, and the level of desperation that it exposes (for the record: a) not very, b) a lot) this has led to a swarm of reaction from anti-Trump forces that can be summed up as “Finally!”
The first suggestions of an “alliance against Trump” go back at least to mid-March, when the Rubio campaign suggested that its supporters should support Kasich in Ohio and that Kasich’s supporters should support him in Florida. Criticism from many corners was launched at Ted Cruz (and his allies) for competing in Florida – a winner-take-all state in which he had no realistic chance of winning – at the likely detriment of Rubio.
Seemingly since Trump surged to the lead of a very large field in late 2015, the campaigns and observers have been accusing each other of “handing the election to Trump” by not cooperating. Cruz, Rubio, Kasich (from same writer a week later) have all, at one point or another, drawn criticism for continuing to compete and diluting the anti-Trump support to a point that no individual candidate can beat The Orange One.
So why, when their supporters have been so heavily invested in stopping Trump, have the candidates resisted the obvious strategies to stop Trump? Why didn’t Rubio call Cruz and Kasich one day and say “Hey, guys, let’s just get Donald out of here. Ted, you campaign in the lower Midwest and the South, John, you take the rust belt and the Northeast. I’ll grab Florida and the mid-Atlantic, and then we can meet out west to settle this. Just tell all of our supporters to vote for the right guy in each state and we should be able to keep Trumpelstiltskin from winning much of anything. Deal?” If your objective is to keep Trump from winning, that is obviously the best strategy, right?
The answer, of course, is that denying Trump was never any other candidate’s primary objective. Rank and file GOP voters (and donors) may hate the idea of Trump as their nominee and be (at least) comfortable with the idea of any of his opponents, but the candidates don’t think that way at all. Ted Cruz wants to be President. Marco Rubio wants to be President. The same is true of John Kasich and Jeb Bush and Rick Perry and Scott Walker and everyone else who ran. And if he doesn’t win the Presidency, then your candidate doesn’t really care who wins instead.
Take Cruz, for example, who was accused of facilitating a Trump win in Florida by competing in a race he had no chance of winning. Why would he do this? He did it because it increased his odds of being President, and that is the only thing that matters to him. By ensuring that Rubio lost Florida, he ensured that Rubio left the race, and that is good news for Cruz. The fact that it is also good news for Trump (in fact, probably even better news) is wholly irrelevant to the decision. In a four way race, Cruz may think his chances of winning are, say, 20%, with Trump’s being 60% and Kasich and Rubio 10% each. When Rubio drops, his chances may rise to 21% while Trump’s rise to 69%, which causes the unbiased observer to note that Senator Cruz has benefitted Mr. Trump much more than he has benefitted himself. That, however, misses the motivation: Cruz improved his own chances of winning, and he doesn’t really care about anything else.
This brings us back to the Cruz-Kasich alliance, which seems like a sudden change of heart for both camps. Only it’s not, really. It is perfectly in line with both camps singular focus of maximizing their chances of being President. After his worse-than-anticipated beating in New York last week, the Cruz campaign is (I am speculating here) substantially less confident in keeping Trump from the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination. They feel like winning in Indiana is an absolute necessity, and they aren’t confident that they can do it on their own. That means that the need to win Indiana is now greater than the need to keep Kasich from winning any more states, so the rational decision is now to make that trade-off.
For the Kasich camp, allowing Cruz to win another state and a bunch more delegates is a pretty easy choice. It decreases the chances that Trump clinches on the first ballot, and it gives him the very real chance to win at least two more states. His (longshot) path at this point is to get to the convention without a clear winner, hope that a multi-ballot failure to pick a nominee will cause the delegates to ignore the bulk of the voting and focus solely on the likelihood of winning in November, and then hope that they also view him as the most electable. Having won more than his home state matters in that sense to him much more than the actual number of delegates he has.
This has been a very odd election cycle, especially on the GOP side. It’s been dominated by an outsider who draws intense animosity from many within the party whose nomination he is seeking. There is a desire among voters to deny him the nomination unlike anything that we have seen in any primary before, but a general unwillingness for candidates to do what their supporters wish that they would. All of their decisions, though, are completely logical and make perfect sense if you remember one salient fact: you might be #NeverTrump, but your candidate is not.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.