Political analysts disagree on whether it is more likely Donald Trump will arrive at the Republican convention in July with a 1,237 delegate majority or whether no candidate will have the majority and the convention will be contested.
The Dallas Morning News reports that for Trump to get 1,237, he needs to win 60 percent of the remaining delegates in upcoming races starting with Utah and Arizona next week. For Ted Cruz to get 1,237, he would need to win 87 percent of the remaining delegates.
And for John Kasich to get 1,237, he would need to win 116 percent of the remaining delegates. That is to say, Kasich cannot enter the July convention with a majority of pledged delegates. But he may be the most important wild card in the race.
If Kasich continues to compete, as he has promised to do, he will likely poll lower than Cruz in most states but still draw enough votes to give Trump multiple plurality wins. This could keep Cruz’s delegate count low and maybe even give Trump an outright majority.
Alternatively, if Kasich’s 143 delegates (plus whatever he picks up) were added to Trump, that could also put Trump over the magic 1,237 number.
But if Kasich’s delegates were added to Cruz, and the race was cleared for Cruz to win outright majorities in some remaining states, it could likewise put Cruz over the top.
Thus, several commentators have noted perhaps the simplest and most sure path for Cruz to shore up the nomination: offer Kasich the vice-presidency. They could then either have Kasich endorse Cruz in all the remaining contests, or select a minority of states where Trump might otherwise win and endorse Kasich in those.
Cruz’s argument for being at the top of the ticket instead of Kasich being the president with Cruz as VP would be that even if Cruz enters the convention with less delegates than Trump, he will still have a lot more than Kasich, and the convention’s choice of someone other than Trump will appear more legitimate if it selects the next highest delegate holder as president. Cruz could also argue that he, rather than Kasich, is better able to unify both the conservative wing of the party and the anti-establishment sentiment that is partially fueling Trump’s run.
Many Cruz supporters recoil at the thought of Cruz teaming up with Kasich, due to their disagreement with Kasich’s views and approaches on various issues. (Several of these issues have been discussed on this site.)
But as the numbers seem to show, with Kasich continuing to split the vote three ways (which Kasich fully intends to do), the choice might not be between Cruz winning on his own terms and choosing his favorite VP, and Cruz partnering with Kasich. The choice might instead be between Cruz teaming up with Kasich now, and Trump winning outright.
Cruz supporters might take solace in the fact that a Cruz-Kasich ticket would still have Cruz as the president, and therefore he would have the final say to ensure that major policy decisions are consistent with his principles. Kasich could also help deliver Ohio in the general election, and provide the Cruz ticket with the appearance of long-time experience and moderation that came, for example, with Biden as the senior statesman VP choice on the ticket of then first-term senator Obama.
Cruz may have had a more purely conservative partnership available to him two or three weeks ago when many conservatives were urging that he form a ticket with Marco Rubio. Having not formed that ticket, Cruz now has fewer choices.
Theoretically Cruz could still form a ticket with Rubio now, and that might give them some momentum to win in the remaining states. But the benefit of a Cruz-Rubio ticket might be a little too late, and it still might not take Kasich’s detrimental effect on Cruz out of the race. This can be seen especially in states like winner-take-all Arizona next week, where Trump could win 58 delegates (almost as many as he lost in Ohio) with a mere plurality. The effect is also apparent in Utah, where if Cruz could win 50 percent of the vote, he could take 100 percent of Utah’s 40 delegates. But if Kasich pulls 5 to 10 percent (he was just endorsed by former Utah governor Mike Leavitt) and keeps Cruz from a majority, Trump would proportionally grab delegates in his own march to 1,237.
Cruz’s alternate strategy seems to be to simply try to persuade voters that he is a better candidate and that Kasich is spitting the vote to Trump’s ultimate benefit. It is not clear if Kasich supporters will be convinced by that mere argument, however. As Maggie reports, even though Cruz seems likely to get about 50 percent of Marco Rubio’s previous supporters, Kasich is pulling more than 25 percent of them himself.
If Cruz did indeed offer Kasich the VP slot and Kasich declined, this could give Cruz another tactic to deploy. He could make that refusal public, as part of his appeal to Kasich voters. This could do two things for Cruz: show “establishment” minded voters that Cruz can be reasonable and reach out to join forces and unite the party, and leave a bitter taste in the mouth of Kasich voters who dislike Trump more than they dislike Cruz and could make them question Kasich’s role in the race. This possible dynamic might, in fact, be a reason that Kasich would take the deal.
Trump’s strategy, for his part, is to just keep winning pluralities against two opponents. This could lead to victory in three ways: he could get a straight up delegate majority; he could get something close to a majority and then win on (perhaps) the first ballot in July with a handful of unpledged delegates voting for him; or he could just get a very strong delegate lead and continue to argue that the convention really should choose him rather than someone with fewer delegates.
If the convention delegates want to choose someone besides Trump as the nominee, the number one rhetorical obstacle will be this last argument: the accusation and perception that Trump and his voters were slighted. Of course, if someone arrives at the convention without a majority, any outcome under the rules is fair, strictly speaking. But the best argument to overcome Trump’s objection would be if the ticket the convention chooses instead of him does have a combined majority of delegates between the President and VP on that victorious ticket. Choosing a ticket that, combined, did win more delegates than Trump could yield a perception of legitimacy that in turn negates any momentum that could exist for a Trump third-party run.
Thus, it would seem that Cruz’s best strategy is to form a unity ticket now, or at least to try to, so as to enter the convention with better numbers and maybe even a raw majority. Between Kasich and Rubio, forming a ticket with Kasich might better help Cruz win more down the stretch.
Despite all this calculation, the Cruz-Kasich alliance may be unlikely. Cruz and Rubio did not join forces when that seemed like a mutually beneficial plan to each of them a few weeks ago. So perhaps for the same reasons it is not likely that Cruz will join with Kasich now. But if he doesn’t, Cruz risks getting essentially the same result moving forward that he got on March 15. This, even more than Trump’s delegate victory, may be why the Trump campaign was very happy with Tuesday’s results.
Matt Bowman is an attorney who practices pro-life and constitutional law in Washington, D.C.