Tuesday is the crucial moment. For Ted Cruz to have any chance of stopping Donald Trump, he has to shock the punditocracy by winning all the delegates in Arizona and Utah.
In Utah, that means he must top 50 percent. Getting there in a three-man race is daunting, but with all those conservative Mormons who don’t swear the state should be Cruz country.
In Arizona, Cruz needs just one more vote than Trump. The media has assumed that because Trump wins anti-immigration voters, he’ll easily carry Arizona. But the latest polls there show Trump taking either 31 percent or 37 percent of the vote. Yes, he’s ahead of Cruz by double digits. But all evidence suggests that late deciders mostly break against Trump.
If Cruz can win Arizona and Utah before moving on to victory in Wisconsin — another winner-take-all state where voters like politicians who play nice — he’ll pick up 140 delegates, bringing Trump’s lead under 100, 673 to 558. Yes, Trump will then win the lion’s share of New York’s delegates, making the winner-take-all primaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware a pivotal factor in who emerges with a plurality of delegates at the convention. And then, of course, there is California, the biggest haul on the map, and the last state to vote. Recent polls show that Trump has yet to seal the deal there. (One survey has him at 38 percent, up 16 points on Cruz; another has him at 25 percent, up just five points.)
Head-to-head, Cruz believes he can win a plurality of delegates and take away Trump’s claim to the nomination. Exit polls in Michigan and Missouri suggest he is right. But Cruz needs to do more to bring voters to his side than presenting himself as the race’s anti-Trump. He needs a message focused on what his election will do for America, not conservatives: trusted to create jobs, trusted to restrain government, trusted to tame the Federal Reserve that is ruining your family’s paycheck and opportunities.
One question still remains, though: If beating Trump fair and square is an imperative, what is Kasich doing in this race?
“In an apparent slight to Cruz, Kasich is planning campaign events in Utah and is running a television ad there. The curious mystery of John Kasich’s campaign is one of the untold stories of this election,” reports Real Clear Politics. Rubio has all but endorsed Cruz, and a new poll shows that the biggest share of his voters will now go to the Texas senator — 47 percent of them, compared to just 13 percent for Trump. Unfortunately for Cruz, Kasich is siphoning off another 27 percent of them.
#share#It made some sense for Kasich to stay in through Ohio, as he always said he would, if only so he could burnish his case for a vice-presidential nod. But why is he still dividing the anti-Trump vote today?
If beating Trump fair and square is an imperative, what is Kasich doing in this race?
He is one of those awkward, gee-whiz Midwestern governors who have a good theoretical chance of winning, but almost always do poorly in GOP primary contests, in part because Southerners just don’t like that style of masculinity. He now says he’s staying strictly positive, but back in October, he tried to punch Trump and got clobbered. When Rubio stumbled in New Hampshire, he secured the second place finish he needed to continue on, and then proceeded to lose every single election until his home state’s.
Is there a secret alliance of some strange kind between Trump and Kasich? How else to explain Kasich pulling out of the Utah GOP debate immediately after the front-runner did? You would think Kasich would want the free media time. But by causing the debate to be cancelled, he saved Trump the embarrassment of being a no-show, not to mention looking scared to face Cruz.
It’s not the only odd mystery surrounding Ohio’s governor. There’s also the question of why George Soros and friends are funding his campaign to the tune of $700,000? Could Soros have any reason for such generous gifts other than helping the GOP nominate the only candidate in the race whose unfavorables are even higher than Hillary Clinton’s?
Maybe Kasich didn’t want to face Ted Cruz, who would surely raise the issue in Utah: Trump gives to liberal Democrats while you, Governor John Kasich, take money from Planned Parenthood’s biggest backers. Explain yourself.
The only other rationale for Kasich’s continued presence is the official one: He somehow believes that after wandering around the country losing every state but his own, he’s going to be the GOP nominee in a contested convention.
He wouldn’t be the only one taken with that fantasy: 45 percent of GOP Insiders polled by Politico said Kasich would be the nominee most acceptable to the convention. (33 percent said Cruz and just 22 percent said Trump). The guy who lost every state but Ohio emerging as the nominee? Really?
“John is the only candidate that is left on the stage that has crossover appeal to all factions of the party,” a New Hampshire Republican told Politico. “The way he has conducted himself in this election has offered him the opportunity to be an acceptable choice for the delegates. Everyone else will be carrying deep battle scars into Cleveland. John will be able to bring different factions together where others can’t.”
#related#“Delegates tend to come from the donor class/establishment wing of the GOP,” an Iowa Republican pointed out, adding that most delegates are “older party regulars.” They may be bound on the first ballot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll take orders from the candidate to which they’re bound thereafter.
Let’s be clear: Cruz isn’t going to do a deal with Kasich, the man set to spend months spoiling his shot at winning the nomination outright. And Trump is not going to step aside for the man he rightly views as a “loser.”
So Kasich must be betting that the party’s donor class and insiders will be so tickled by his pro-immigration, don’t-worry-about-religious-liberty stance that they will be willing to destroy the party by nominating him.
— Maggie Gallagher is the author of four books on marriage and a longtime contributor to National Review.