Sen. Ted Cruz is carefully positioning himself to seize the nomination if Donald Trump fails to gain the 1,237 delegates needed to lock up the convention on the first ballot.
Cruz is well-organized in the states to ensure he wins as many as possible and grabs as high a share of the delegates as he can. Since on the second ballot most delegates are free to vote for whomever they want, he is also working the delegates, trying to ensure that whether they are committed to Trump in the first ballot or not, they’ll go for Cruz on the second. He is trying to place as many of his people on the rules committee as he can, in case some old-fashioned political chicanery is called for. And he is even courting the Republican Establishment he has built a career scorning.
But there is one more thing he can still do to ensure that he wins on the second ballot or perhaps the third, when nearly all the delegates will be free agents: He can choose Gov. John Kasich as his running mate.
Selecting Kasich is such an obvious choice for Cruz, one suspects he may have already decided to do it.
Taking Kasich could combat Trump’s contention, should he not reach 1,237, that the convention is being stolen from him by an illegitimate minority. While Trump will most likely be first in Cleveland with a plurality of the vote, Cruz will be second and Kasich third, and their combined tally will be close enough to Trump’s to allow at least the rebuttal that a popular alternative — albeit combined into two candidates — has emerged to Trump.
According to one fairly conservative scenario run by PoliZette, Trump could easily wind up 100 votes short, with about 1,130 delegates. In this forecast, Cruz ends up about 300 points behind, and the combined total of Cruz and Kasich is about 1,065 delegates, just short of Trump. The forecast assumes a Cruz win in Wisconsin on Tuesday — he is up three points in the RCP average of Wisconsin polls — and that he wins in Indiana, New Mexico and other western states where he is expected to do well. Trump gets New York, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and several other significant states, and still comes up short.
The Cruz-Trump unity ticket allows the anti-Trump crowd to at least argue that the popular will is not being ignored.
The Cruz-Trump unity ticket allows the anti-Trump crowd to at least argue that the popular will is not being ignored — even if Kasich voters weren’t exactly asked whether they would also back him for vice president and would stomach a Cruz presidency.
But the selection of Kasich does much more for Cruz. It’s a significant outreach to Establishment and moderate Republicans, whose biggest fear about Cruz is that he is a rigid ideologue incapable of compromise. Kasich has been seen throughout the primaries as a choice acceptable to the Establishment, and his presence on the ticket would galvanize party leaders to face down Trump at the convention.
Should Cruz win the nomination and the presidency, Kasich could serve as an ambassador for Cruz to Capitol Hill, providing valuable assistance to a senator who has no ties in Congress and would be expected to run up against hostility on both sides of the aisle.
As an older governor with vastly more experience than Cruz in both legislating and running something big — that is, Ohio — Kasich could also assuage concerns among voters about whether Cruz is ready for the presidency.
One question remains, though. Both men are headstrong and opinionated, with a reputation for egocentricity. Whether the West Wing is big enough to fit both of their heads is an unresolved question.