26 April 2016

Too little too late: Cruz and Kasich’s half-hearted pact to stop Trump


Late on Sunday night, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich announced that they are coordinating their efforts in three upcoming primaries in order to prevent Donald Trump from winning the GOP presidential nomination. Kasich has agreed to pull out of Indiana to give Cruz “a clear path” to the winner-takes-all primary on May 3, while Cruz will return the favour in Oregon and New Mexico.

Cruz’s campaign manager, Jeff Roe, said that having Trump on the ticket would “set the party back a generation”, while Kasich’s strategist, John Weaver, called for an open convention to back a “candidate capable of uniting the party”. For the first time in the race, Republican candidates are cooperating with each other to try and deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs to earn the nomination in July.

In response, Trump called it “desperation”. And he’s right.

Trump’s behaviour has been abhorrent throughout the race, while his policies and sheer ignorance are deeply concerning. He would stand little hope of winning the presidency on November 8th, and even if he did, the world would be a more dangerous place with Trump in the White House.

But we knew all this months ago. Why has it taken so long for GOP figures to take action against a Trump nomination, and what chance do they have of succeeding after leaving it so late?

The New York businessman has done staggeringly well to gain so much support from disillusioned Republican voters, but he’s been helped by an opposition split between so many different candidates. The 2016 GOP race is unprecedented in modern politics in terms of the size of its field, with a very crowded 16 candidates. Although many never stood a chance, the field has only recently been whittled down to the three still remaining.

The party has failed spectacularly to coalesce behind one favoured candidate to defeat Trump. As I identified in January, establishment support was dangerously divided between four candidates: Governor John Kasich, Senator Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. After his strong second-place showing in South Carolina in February, Rubio spoke about uniting behind one candidate as the “natural process that’s going to take hold”.

Instead, though, the establishment candidates attacked each other. Bush’s super PAC Right to Rise, for example, raised $100 million and spent $20 million attacking Rubio in adverts. At the New Hampshire GOP debate, Chris Christie spent his time hammering Rubio, before shockingly endorsing Donald Trump when forced to suspend his own campaign. Subsequently, Jeb Bush was forced to drop out, but it took him a whole month to endorse another candidate, backing Ted Cruz in late March. Rubio’s campaign suffered without full establishment support and on March 15 he lost his home state Florida, gifting Trump 99 delegates.

That all leaves Kasich and Cruz. The latter has never been popular with the Republican establishment, but is the only candidate within a mile of Trump in terms of delegates. Kasich, nicknamed ‘1 for 38’ by Trump (referring to his record so far), has never managed to gain traction in the race but is still hoping to emerge victorious at a contested convention at Cleveland in July. Mitt Romney, GOP nominee in 2012, has argued that Kasich’s decision to remain in the running will aid Trump in securing the nomination, while 70% of Republicans believe he should drop out.

This brings us onto the second question: does their last-ditch effort have any chance of working? Many anti-Trump Republicans still believe that if Trump falls short of a majority of delegates in Cleveland, then they may be able to wrestle the nomination from him. After all, the esteemed Abraham Lincoln took three ballots to win the nomination in 1860.

In the first vote at the convention, 95% of delegates are bound to a candidate. If Trump doesn’t get his nomination then more than 30 states are free to vote how they choose in a second round. If it goes to a third round of voting, only 18% of delegates are still bound to their candidate. In theory, then, floods of delegates could rush to support someone else for the candidacy. This would most likely be Cruz, but many have refused to rule out Kasich or even someone else entirely new. What would actually happen at a brokered convention, with its changing rules and backroom deals, though, is very much uncertain.

Despite all these possibilities, the fact remains that Trump is far ahead and all the momentum is with him. He took New York by a landslide, winning 89 delegates with 60% of the vote, and is set to do well in the ‘Acela primary’ today of five crucial northeastern states. Projections suggest that Trump could get very close to the 1,237 “magic number” needed for a majority.

If the property mogul falls slightly short of that number, he will have six weeks to lobby support from unbound delegates ahead of the July convention. Spearheaded by the strategist Paul Manafort, alongside veteran Republican attorney William McGinley, Trump’s preparations to win delegates have become more sophisticated in recent days and weeks. History is also on their side: the Republican convention has not passed a first ballot since 1952.

Trump’s most powerful argument lies in the millions of people who have come out to vote for him. Whether Cruz and Kasich’s vote sharing scheme works or not, their rival will still have a commanding lead. In a brokered convention, the GOP could do a great deal of damage to its party by completely disregarding months of democratic contests. If it comes to it, perhaps that would be a price worth paying to prevent the nightmare scenario of a Trump nomination.

Republican candidates could have sacrificed their egos at an earlier date. If they had, there is a very good chance that a more respectable candidate would be in a stronger position to defeat Trump. However, the GOP looks bound to elect its most unfavourable presidential candidate in many years. Too little too late.

Jack Graham is a video journalist and political commentator who specialises in American politics.