Cruz's Gamble

We’ve reached another defining moment in a wild and raucous presidential campaign. With only 4 candidates remaining, decisions have to be made within the next few days which will determine the outcome of the race.

Trump’s strategy is simple: keep doing what he’s doing, get free media attention, and roll to the nomination.

Kasich has a chance to win Ohio, but won’t have nearly enough delegates to win the nomination outright. At this point he’s probably angling for a cabinet position in a Trump administration. Kasich has said that he’s anticipating a brokered convention, where he will likely trade what few delegates he’s accumulated for a cabinet post.

Rubio is in a tough spot. He missed the minimum cutoff to receive delegates in several states on Super Tuesday. He put in a decent showing, but he’s approximately 100 delegates behind Cruz and about 200 behind Trump. Rubio is also underwater in his home state, and has cancelled several events in other states to concentrate almost exclusively on Florida. Rubio, like Kasich, no longer has a path to win the nomination outright, and is also banking on a brokered convention.

This brings us to Cruz.

Cruz did well on Super Tuesday – not as well as he hoped to when laying out his path to victory several months ago, but well enough to be in a clear 2nd place delegate-wise. Cruz now has to choose between a few options:

  1. Play along with Rubio and Kasich to hopefully deny Trump 1257, leading to a brokered convention
  2. Drop out and endorse Rubio
  3. Continue to campaign hard, attempting to squeeze out Rubio and Kasich while eating away at Trump’s support
  4. Offer Rubio* (and possibly Kasich) a high-value spot in a Cruz administration to entice them into dropping out and supporting Cruz

Option 1 likely leads to either a Trump nomination or a permanent  fracturing of the GOP, so Cruz probably will not push for this outcome. If we get to the convention and Trump has a plurality (but not majority) of the delegates and then the nomination is yanked away from him with backroom dealing, his supporters will scream bloody murder and probably leave the GOP for good. (The more obnoxious Trump supporters won’t be missed, but the GOP needs votes from Trump’s reasonable and ideological supporters – yes, they do exist.)

Option 2 is the least likely – Cruz leads Rubio by 100+ delegates and it would make no sense for him to drop out now. If Cruz drops out, some of his support would go to Rubio, but 30% or so would probably go to Trump, giving him an insurmountable lead. Those voters are backing Cruz for his anti-establishment credentials and his immigration stance, and likely will not back a Rubio/Cruz ticket.

I think Cruz is most likely to choose either Option 3 or Option 4, or a mixture of the two. Erick Erickson and others have been calling for a Cruz/Rubio unity ticket as the strongest option to defeat Trump, and I think that’s what Cruz will attempt. (Whether Rubio goes along with this or not is another story.) If Cruz makes a serious play in Florida, Rubio will not win it. He may get more votes than Cruz, but unless he beats Trump, all 99 of FL’s delegates will go to Trump since it is a winner-take-all state. Just this morning Cruz brought in some members of Jeb Bush’s team, and his spokesman said he will be campaigning in Florida.

I think Cruz is betting that he can pressure Rubio into backing him, because if Rubio doesn’t, we’re likely looking at either a Trump nomination (leading to a fractured GOP thanks to the #NeverTrump movement) or a situation where the nomination is essentially stolen from Trump at the convention (leading to a fractured GOP, when Trump storms out and takes his voters with him).

Like it or not, Cruz is now the only candidate who can unify the party. He can bridge the gap between Trump’s immigration and anti-establishment hardliners, and beltway Republicans for whom decorum is the most important trait. With Rubio on  his ticket, he would also bring in support from the Republican pundit class. The question is whether Cruz is prepared to make the offer and whether Rubio is willing to play ball.


*As an aside, Rick Perry has been a high-profile surrogate for Cruz – I wonder if that was given out of Texan solidarity or if Cruz acquired his endorsement by offering him VP? If that’s the case, Rubio may be holding out for Cruz to bump Perry off the ticket.

[EDIT] Apparently you can’t have a ticket with POTUS and VP from the state, so that kind of blows a hole in this theory. But maybe Cruz has Perry in mind for SecDefense? He has military experience.