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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Cruz and Kasich do the impossible – steal attention away from Donald Trump

In a Republican presidential nomination season chock full of crazy twists and turns, perhaps the strangest one of all was exposed yesterday that has folks’ heads spinning.

Ted Cruz and John Kasich released separate statements late Sunday night revealing that the two campaigns will cooperate in three upcoming states to stop Donald Trump from reaching the 1237 delegate number ahead of July’s Republican convention. We’ve heard rumors for months about various candidates covertly cooperating with other candidates, but this is the first time to my knowledge it’s been officially confirmed by anyone.
Trump tweet
Katie Glueck and Kyle Cheney of Politico report, “The new Cruz-Kasich pact is an acknowledgment that neither man can overtake Trump in the race, and both know their best shot at preventing Trump from clinching the nomination outright is to team up to block his path and force a contested convention. And it may still be too late: Trump is closing in on the number of delegates he needs to win the nomination.

“The deal also highlights the urgency the anti-Trump forces feel in Indiana, where a strong Cruz performance in the May 3 primary could deny the Manhattan billionaire 57 of the delegates he needs to reach a majority before the Republican National Convention convenes in July…”

The deal makes a lot of sense for both candidates. Since both acknowledge they can only win through stopping Trump short of the 1237 delegate number, there’s no reason to keep competing against each other for delegates, essentially splitting the vote and handing them to Trump.

(Note: Though John Kasich is now saying the deal isn’t about votes, it’s about resources.)

Individually, it makes sense for Kasich to cooperate with Cruz because he has absolutely zero possibility of winning if trends continue the way they are. His chances aren’t much better at the convention, but at least there’s some possibility the Trump and Cruz people will be so preoccupied with fighting each other that Kasich could sneak in there somewhere.

I didn’t say it was likely, but from Kasich’s standpoint, it’s the only alternative left.

Similarly, the deal makes sense for Cruz because he senses he’ll do well enough on the second ballot to potentially win the nomination. Having thoroughly defeated Trump and Kasich in the organizing game in the individual states, Cruz knows he’ll likely have a majority of his supporters seated on the convention floor when the program commences.

The risk for Cruz is that Trump now has another red-hot topic to grumble about and this time it’s more than just “whining”. When your opponents agree to cooperate against you – and they announce it to the world – it’s a good way to rally your supporters.

Trump wasted no time in reacting to the news.

As also reported by Glueck and Cheney, Trump said in a statement on Monday, “When two candidates who have no path to victory get together to stop a candidate who is expanding the party by millions of voters, (all of whom will drop out if I am not in the race) it is yet another example of everything that is wrong in Washington and our political system. This horrible act of desperation, from two campaigns who have totally failed, makes me even more determined, for the good of the Republican Party and our country, to prevail!”

At any rate, this development should effectively end the talk of Kasich and Trump cooperating to stop Cruz. It certainly doesn’t look like any VP offer for Kasich will be forthcoming either, but in this wild campaign season, who knows?

Maybe Kasich is just trying to increase his delegate count to deny both Trump AND Cruz the nomination on the first, second or subsequent ballots. Or maybe he’s trying to accumulate enough to have more leverage with both of them for the VP nod.

We could go blue in the face speculating about the strategic implications…there are many, many. It also likely signals an end to Cruz’s advocacy for the retention of Rule 40 (requiring candidates to win the majority of delegates in eight states to be eligible for the nomination), but you never know.

Lastly on the “cooperation” agreement, while the Cruz and Kasich statements only list Indiana, Oregon and New Mexico, if the campaigns are truly going to collaborate on this matter, it logically should extend to other states as well.

I can just envision the flood of phone calls that must be overpowering the Cruz and Kasich campaigns from voters in the various states and districts. Living a stone’s throw away from Maryland myself, I would anticipate that some of the congressional districts around Washington DC would be good prospects for Kasich to win if both his and Cruz’s support was combined today.

(Note: There’s already some evidence that this may be happening as indicated by the Washington Examiner’s Timothy P. Carney.)

Likewise, there are certainly some “mixed” not-Trump Maryland districts where Cruz would be ahead of Kasich. Should the Kasich people throw their weight to Cruz in those locations?

The same rationale goes for Pennsylvania, which also votes today.

Chaos isn’t out of the question here. If Kasich and Cruz are seriously going to band together, they should publish a map on their respective websites instructing which candidate to choose in which district.

Of course some voters won’t get the message and some stubbornly won’t pull the lever for the other candidate in any case, but the concept itself is fascinating.

I guess now we will finally see whether the not-Trump forces are strong enough to stop him. And by not-Trump, I’m talking about not only the #NeverTrump people but also the entire body of Republican voters who have favored other candidates – or no candidate at all – instead of Trump.

The line has been drawn. I doubt it will have much effect in today’s primaries, but from tomorrow on, watch out.

Even Cruz’s campaign admits today will be a tough one for Ted

Prior to New York’s primary last Tuesday, Ted Cruz had pulled off a string of five consecutive state victories, providing the Texas senator with momentum and adding more credibility to his claim that he was the last best alternative to Donald Trump.

Then came the storm last week where Trump bettered 60 percent in his home state primary and Cruz was completely shut out from winning any delegates. It was a dark day indeed. But harsh as it may sound, today’s voting could be just as bad for Ted…or possibly even worse.

Byron York of the Washington Examiner writes, “Ted Cruz's campaign concedes that [today’s] primaries in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Maryland will be difficult for Cruz, and on late Sunday afternoon campaign chairman Chad Sweet admitted that the biggest prize of the day, Pennsylvania, ‘will likely go mostly for Trump.’

“The best hope for Cruz, Sweet told members of Cruz's national security team in an on-the-record conference call, is to win a ‘fair share’ of the delegates at stake in the Keystone State.”

If the polls are any indication, Cruz is in for a drubbing reminiscent of last Tuesday. According to the Real Clear Politics average for the states voting today, Trump is polling above 50 percent in Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island and has solid plurality leads in Maryland and Pennsylvania as well.

As also reported by York, Sweet said the Cruz campaign had anticipated for a long time that this would be a rough two-week stretch of primaries. That’s all well and good, but it’s all but killed the momentum Ted had built up the previous month and has only functioned to fan Trump’s charges of a “rigged” system.

For what it’s worth, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com says The Donald’s “rigged system” attacks appear to be catching on with the voters, though it depends on the framing of survey questions and Trump still must get to 1237 if he hopes to win the nomination (because he’s losing badly in the delegate placement game).

And even though it’s not hard to predict how today’s primaries will turn out, it’s anybody’s guess how next week in Indiana will go with the new Cruz/Kasich deal and Trump’s new momentum from two weeks of big wins.

One thing is for sure -- it looks like pundits won’t get much rest no matter how the race evolves.

After the Republican National Convention, everyone must focus on #NeverHillary

The Cruz people don’t like the Trump people. The Trump people don’t like the Cruz people. Neither the Trump people nor the Cruz people like the Kasich people, and vice versa.

As the weeks drag on in the Republican nomination race, it’s clear that the wounds that started opening up late last fall are not only unhealed, they’re festering.

Some might say the lesions are infected. Amputation, anyone?

But there is one bit of hope on the horizon for a Republican Party that’s broken to the point of considering putting it out of its misery – her name is Hillary Clinton. The very name gets a rise out of nearly all Republicans because there’s a quarter century of grudges built up against the clan.

Caitlin Huey-Burns of Real Clear Politics writes, “It’s a history, indeed. The GOP tried and failed twice to defeat Bill Clinton. Party lawmakers even impeached him. Still, Republicans view Hillary Clinton with even more disdain. The former president was a southern Democrat with a more moderate coalition of support.

“As recently as 2012, Republicans aiming to hit Obama as too liberal hailed Bill Clinton’s ability to work with the opposition to balance the budget in the 1990s. Hillary Clinton teamed up with their archrival Obama and became the face of the administration’s foreign policy record, which Republicans view negatively. Over the course of the Democratic primary with Bernie Sanders, she has moved farther to the left, even opposing trade deals her husband championed.”

I’ve argued many times in the past that the Republican “team” would come together after the primary season to battle the common foe. I’ve also noted that the nastiness of the fight could be turning off Republicans and conservatives to the point of no return.

A lot is going to depend on what happens at the Cleveland convention and the days immediately after. The “loser,” whoever it might be, is going to have to be the bigger man and throw-in with the party.

My feeling is Cruz will do so because he realizes how damaging Hillary Clinton would be for the country. Trump will do it because he’s concerned about the family legacy. Kasich will do it… well, because he’s part of the establishment and the elites don’t want to lose this one.

It won’t be easy, but I’m still hopeful #NeverHillary will prevail in the end.

New national poll shows Trump nearly even with Hillary

Finally today, though Republicans will certainly be looking to the results of today’s primaries to get a grip on how the race is evolving, Donald Trump received some good news from a new national poll that shows him only trailing Hillary Clinton by a few points, within the margin of error (albeit barely).

Rebecca Savransky of The Hill reports, “Hillary Clinton holds just a 3-point lead over Republican front-runner Donald Trump in a national head to head matchup, according to a George Washington University Battleground Poll.

“Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has 46 percent compared to Trump's 43 percent, a more narrow margin than other polls have found.”

This survey’s Clinton lead is considerably smaller than most recent polls, but could signal a couple things. First, Trump’s railing against the “rigged system” certainly applies just as much to Hillary Clinton as it does to the Republican Party’s nominating system.

Hillary Clinton is the Washington establishment. Period. Her face has been beamed to American living rooms since the early nineties. People are as tired of her as they are of the political establishment.

Lastly, Clinton’s own contentious nomination fight with Bernie Sanders is making her look even crueler and colder than she normally appears. Forget the difference in issue positions between the candidates for a moment -- she’s about as huggable as a cactus in a frozen desert in January.

It’s hard to say whether this one poll really indicates the overall race is getting tighter. But it could be an indicator that it isn’t just Trump that’s a potential drag on their party.

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