Love him or hate him, you cannot deny that Ted Cruz understands the game that he is playing right now. Objectively, Donald Trump accomplished nothing on Tuesday other than holding serve. He still has to win Indiana and do very well in California to reach 1,237, which means that he’s still in the exact same place he was before Tuesday started.
However, Cruz understands that the media has a vested interest in making it seem like Trump’s Tuesday was a Really Big Deal and that the race is all but over. They have a pecuniary interest in doing so because if Trump wins, that will be a ratings bonanza for them that will last for the next six months. They also have an professional interest in doing so, because the news media never does itself a favor by calling any given story “no big deal.”
If you’re in the media, it’s always better for business to pretend that something is a story, even when it’s not. Especially when there really isn’t anything else going on, newswise.
Prior to about noon yesterday, this is the vacuum in which the media was operating. They had nothing to do but talk about how awesome it is that Trump won all those states he was expected to win, and doesn’t this mean that it’s all over?
Ted Cruz understood that it was important to give the media something else – anything, really – to talk about. And give them something to talk about he did, by announcing Carly Fiorina as his running mate. Substantively, the pick of Fiorina is relatively inconsequential to the ongoing fight with Donald Trump. From a media standpoint, it was a rousing success.
From noon on, the networks talked about almost nothing other than the expected announcement. Several hours after the announcement, this was the splash page on CNN.com – which might soon have to rename itself the Trump News Network, so dedicated have they been to covering Trump:
Cruz knows that the real fight for a contested convention will occur on Tuesday in Indiana. He still believes he can defeat Trump there and thus effectively block his path to the nomination. But he knows that it’s in his interest to keep the media interested in the race before then to further prevent consolidation around Trump, operating on the well-tested theory that the more Trump faces actual competition, the more likely he is to say or do things that will continue to alienate the 60% of the party that does not support him.
In so doing, Cruz accomplished his mission brilliantly. And he did it in such a way that was both interesting and plausible, and guaranteed to keep people talking about this as a live race (which it still is).
Well played, Senator Cruz. We’ll see how this affects Indiana in five days.