Politics & Policy

Cruz Stakes It All on Carly ahead of Final Stretch

Fiorina and Cruz in Indianapolis, April 27, 2016. (Ty Wright/Getty)
The Story Behind the Cruz-Carly Alliance

Indianapolis – Call it a Hail Mary, or a Hail Carly. With no chance of winning the Republican nomination before the convention in Cleveland and with the odds of a contested convention growing dimmer, Ted Cruz announced Carly Fiorina as his potential running mate Wednesday afternoon.

The Texas senator acknowledged the rarity of announcing a running mate before securing the nomination, but said, “I think all would acknowledge this race, if anything, is unusual.”

Cruz has long admired Fiorina, who endorsed his candidacy seven weeks ago. Facing political extinction if he loses Indiana’s primary on Tuesday, Cruz made their alliance more official. On stage at the Pan Am Convention Center here in Indianapolis, Cruz said he felt the announcement was necessary to help unite a fractured party. He praised Fiorina as a careful, measured, and serious leader, somebody who “doesn’t get overly excited” or “rattled by whatever is getting thrown at her.” He made the contrast to Donald Trump’s candidacy obvious. His criteria for picking a nominee, he said, included whether somebody thinks through decisions “in a rash and impulsive way.”

“Do they pop off the handle at whatever strikes them at any given moment?” he asked.

Fiorina, he made clear, does not. But whatever her impressive personal qualities, the reality is that the announcement was for Cruz a desperately needed opportunity to shake up the race and an attempt to infuse a jolt of energy and excitement into a flagging candidacy. After Donald Trump trounced him in five northeastern primaries Tuesday, claiming 109 of the 128 bound delegates at stake — and with his victories coming on the heels of a dominant showing in the New York primary a week ago — even Cruz’s supporters were beginning to write his obituary.

RELATED: What Fiorina Brings to Cruz’s Ticket

They feared Trump’s romp would affect voters in subsequent contests, particularly in make-or-break Indiana and California. “People are kidding themselves if they think Tuesday night’s results won’t have an effect on voters in Indiana and elsewhere,” says David Bahnsen, a Newport Beach-based investment manager who is fundraising for Cruz in California.

Enter Fiorina, who offered Cruz a much-needed opportunity to frame the contest on his own terms, with hundreds of television cameras pointed in his direction. He worked to dispel the aura of inevitability beginning to form around Trump: While the elites “are all trying to tell the American people this race is over,” he said, the reality is that “nobody is getting to 1,237 delegates. I’m not getting to 1,237 delegates and Donald J. Trump is not getting to 1,237 delegates.” And he emphasized the special role Indiana voters will play in deciding the outcome of the intra-party brawl. “The Hoosier State is going to have a powerful voice” in deciding the outcome of the race.

Enter Fiorina, who offered Cruz a much-need opportunity to frame the contest on his own terms.

Six days out from the primary, Cruz’s political life rests on a knife’s edge. In her remarks, Fiorina argued that “character is revealed over time and under pressure” — that struggles don’t build character, but offer a window into it. Though she was referring to past trials, it also seemed as if she could have been talking about the present day. Donald Trump, she said, “doesn’t represent me and he does not represent my party.” She acknowledged the fight to deprive him of the nomination will be tough, but said, “I’ve had tough fights all my life. Tough fights don’t worry me a bit.”

The road ahead will certainly be rocky. With Trump fewer than 300 delegates away from clinching the nomination, Cruz and Fiorina need wins not only in Indiana, where polls show Trump with a six-point lead ahead of Tuesday’s primary, but also in California’s June 7 primary.

Tactically speaking, Cruz’s decision to team with Fiorina at this juncture has as much to do with competing there as it does with winning in Indiana. Fiorina, who was the 2010 Republican senatorial nominee in California, is uniquely equipped among Cruz’s vice-presidential options to campaign around the clock in the state over the next six weeks. Having a running mate allows a presidential ticket to be in two places at once — Fiorina will hit the campaign trail in California on Friday. Though she lacks a deep network in the state, she is a known commodity in the business community as well as among grassroots conservatives.

RELATED: The Fiorina Pick

There were hints over the past six weeks that the pick was likely. Following Fiorina’s surprise endorsement of Cruz in the run-up to Florida’s March 15 primary, she quickly established herself as the campaign’s star surrogate, relentlessly assailing Trump, vouching for Cruz’s credibility as an anti-establishment outsider, and shielding him from perceived media hostility.

It soon became apparent to Cruz’s allies that Fiorina — more than Rick Perry, Steve King, or any other high-profile politician — was proving to be Cruz’s most effective sidekick. She complemented his talents (stage presence) and covered his weaknesses (retail politicking). Most important, Cruz, who has few close relationships, seemed to have genuine chemistry with her.

#share#From their first days together on the campaign trail, he forged a bond with his former rival. Cruz’s wife, Heidi, also hit it off with her. And at a “Women for Cruz” event in Madison, Wis., in late March, Fiorina held hands with Cruz’s young daughters as they walked on stage; held the arm of Cruz’s elderly mother as she exited; and chatted with Heidi Cruz throughout the event. On stage Wednesday, Fiorina broke into song briefly, chanting a tune for Cruz’s daughters.

RELATED: Why Cruz Is Going All-In on Indiana

It soon became apparent that Cruz was auditioning Fiorina for a bigger role. At some events she was spending nearly as much time on stage as the candidate himself — and she sometimes earned more enthusiastic applause. Cruz’s team felt so confident in her performances that they began devising a schedule for Fiorina to campaign independently on their behalf, sometimes alongside Heidi.

Cruz himself had long been impressed by Fiorina, and had been keeping tabs on her for almost a year.

‘She’s very impressive, isn’t she?’ Cruz said. ‘Very impressive.’

At a May 2015 meeting of the Council for National Policy, a shadowy umbrella organization that brings together conservative-activist leaders, they were two of the six presidential hopefuls scheduled to speak on the same day. It was an audition to win the support of influential movement figures in the room, and each Republican had allies working the room and monitoring other teams’ activities. According to a source present backstage, Cruz was being briefed on other candidates’ speeches — including Fiorina’s — when he interrupted. “She’s very impressive, isn’t she?” Cruz said. “Very impressive.”

The two had many common allies in the room that day — Cruz by virtue of his connections to the grassroots community, Fiorina thanks to her position chairing the American Conservative Union’s foundation board. Their overlapping circles helped to facilitate a critical one-on-one meeting nearly a year later, in March 2016, at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, D.C. In a suite at the Gaylord National Resort, they clicked instantly. It didn’t hurt that Fiorina revealed she had voted for Cruz in the Virginia primary days earlier.

RELATED: Mike Pence’s Time for Choosing in Indiana

On Wednesday in Indianapolis, Cruz recalled that conversation. “When Carly initially endorsed, before that announcement, she and I sat down and talked at great length,” he told the crowd in Indianapolis. “One of the things that struck me in that conversation, is she said, ‘I have a condition for endorsing.’ And I sat back and said, ‘All right, what is that?’ And she said ‘When I do things, I don’t do things half way.’” Fiorina, he said, wanted to be allowed to put her heart into the campaign. Cruz gave her the green light.

Shortly after that meeting, both camps were informed that her endorsement was imminent. It came the following week at a joint appearance in Miami in which Fiorina hailed Cruz as a “reformer” who has made enemies by taking on “the status quo.” For the next six weeks Fiorina was on call to campaign with Cruz at moment’s notice. “Since that time I have seen her day in, day out, on the campaign bus going from stop to stop to stop: that she is careful, she is measured, she is serious,” Cruz said Wednesday.

Although her talents on the campaign trail were obvious, and she was included on a preliminary short list of choices for Cruz’s running mate, she set herself apart in a moment of crisis. When the National Enquirer tabloid reported on March 25 that Cruz had carried on extramarital affairs with five women, the campaign’s response was swift and aggressive — yet somehow lacking in outrage. It wasn’t until three days later, amidst an increasingly nasty back-and-forth between the Cruz and Trump campaigns that Cruz’s team offered a forceful response. And it came from Fiorina.

As Cruz took questions on a Monday evening in Wisconsin eight days ahead of the state’s April 5 primary, a Daily Mail reporter began badgering Cruz about the Enquirer report. Before he could respond, Fiorina interceded. “This is an example of the media playing to Donald Trump’s tune. Donald Trump is a serial philanderer, by his own admission,” she said. “And in a week when we have had a terrorist attack in Brussels, a shooting at the Capitol, the president of the U.S. in the baseball stands with Raul Castro, and insisting he be photographed in front of a picture of Che Guevara with the two Castro brothers, we are talking about a scurrilous, ridiculous piece in the National Enquirer?”

#related#The incident prompted a revelation inside the Cruz campaign and provided confirmation to Cruz himself of Fiorina’s capabilities, both as a loyal lieutenant and as an attack dog against Trump and any other opponents he might encounter. Indeed, the next morning at a rally in suburban Milwaukee — after Fiorina’s introductory speech was repeatedly interrupted with shouts of “Carly for VP!” — Cruz took the stage and made a revealing remark. “That woman,” he said, nodding toward Fiorina, “gives Hillary Clinton nightmares.” He said precisely the same thing on stage in Indianapolis Wednesday as he brought the announcement event to a close.

But facing off against Hillary Clinton means going through Donald Trump first — something Fiorina understands. Back in Wisconsin, during a lunch stop at a Milwaukee burger joint in the critical days before the Badger State primary, Cruz and Fiorina waited patiently for a takeout order after greeting guests. Pressed by National Review about whether he had begun to evaluate possible ticket-mates, Fiorina, for the second time in as many days, interjected on his behalf. “Maybe we ought to get him the nomination first,” she said with a protective glare.

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