Good news for Peter King, at least: He won’t be committing suicide this year after all.
The Pennsylvania numbers — Trump 49, Cruz 26, Kasich 22 — are eye-popping, but you should know the delegate rules there well enough by now to know there’s a catch. Namely, 54 of the 71 delegates are unbound regardless of what Republican voters do in the primary. In theory, Cruz could lose the popular vote by 25 points and still walk away with a majority of the state’s delegation in his pocket thanks to his delegate-wrangling operation. In practice, though, things are more complicated. Read this post if you haven’t yet to see why.
Cruz’s delegate operation in Pennsylvania isn’t as dominant as it’s been in other states (there are actually fewer pro-Cruz candidates running for delegate than there are pro-Trump ones) and dozens of delegate candidates say they’ll back whoever wins the popular vote in their district, which is likely to be Trump in most or all cases.
There’s nothing holding them to that promise, but the bigger Trump’s landslide in Pennsylvania is, the more public pressure there’ll be on the Pennsylvania delegation to stick with Trump in Cleveland. In fact, per CBS/YouGov, 68 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans say delegates should back the statewide winner. That’s a big deal given how close he’s likely to be to 1,237 when the convention begins. If you’re a Trumper, the numbers in today’s poll are exactly what you want to see to make Pennsylvania’s delegates think twice about backing Cruz.
Even a sharp break towards Trump among Pennsylvania’s delegates might not get him over the hump on the first ballot if he doesn’t do well in Indiana, though. And as chance would have it, he is doing well in Indiana. But well enough?
Donald Trump leads Ted Cruz by only 5 points, 40% to 35%, with John Kasich trailing at 20%.
Cruz benefits from more favorable demographics in Indiana than Pennsylvania, but he also performs better there among the demographics that have provided his base in the past, including evangelicals, Tea Party supporters and very conservative voters.
We’ve had three polls of Indiana in the past four days and the results line up — Trump by eight, Trump by six, now Trump by five. There’s little question that he’s actually ahead. The question is what happens this coming week when Mike Pence maybe hopefully possibly decides to issue an endorsement and big names like Scott Walker show up to barnstorm for Cruz. And a secondary question: What do Kasich voters do when they go in the booth on May 3rd? If just half of them decide to vote strategically to force a convention, which means voting for Cruz, Cruz would leap ahead of Trump here. You would think Kasich would be encouraging them to do that — he needs a brokered convention as much as Cruz does, which means it’s as important to Kasich that Cruz win Indiana as it is to Cruz — and yet … he just announced that he’s opening two offices in the state. A few weeks ago he hired a firm to direct his field operation there. According to the Hill, he plans to be campaigning in Indiana next Tuesday night instead of in a mid-Atlantic state like Maryland, where he stands to pick up some delegates. Is this guy actually trying to help Trump win or is he so stupid that he’d actually work against a brokered convention in Indiana even though a convention is his only path to the nomination? And if he is trying to help Trump win, why not drop out at this point and endorse him instead? It’s far less trouble than doing what he’s doing.
Never Trump is urging “every Hoosier who doesn’t want Donald Trump be the nominee to vote for Cruz.”
“There’s nothing we see that indicates that Kasich has real opportunities to pick up delegates [in Indiana],” [Our Principles chief Katie Packer] said. “I don’t really know what their campaign’s objectives [in Indiana] are…but for our purposes – no.”
State Sen. Michael Karikhoff (R-Ind.), a co-chairman for Kasich’s campaign in Indiana, said those calling for Kasich to defer to Cruz in Indiana are misguided.
“Gov. Kasich can absolutely win some delegates here,” he said. “People saying he shouldn’t be here aren’t being respectful of the process.”
Playing to win a handful of delegates in Indiana at the potential cost of splitting the anti-Trump vote and handing dozens of delegates to Trump is one of the most myopic, strategically idiotic moves made by any candidate in the campaign — if that’s what Kasich is really doing here rather than simply trying to help Trump win. I could understand competing there if Cruz and Kasich were close in the state and it was unclear who the second-place finisher is likely to be, as it is in Maryland; it would still be poor strategy since it would mean dividing anti-Trumpers, but Cruz would arguably be as likely to blame for refusing to collude with Kasich in a situation like that as vice versa. There’s no question in Indiana, though, as to which of the non-Trump candidates stands a better chance of winning. Cruz leads Kasich by nine points in one poll, by 17 in another, and by 15 in this one. He’s the one, not Kasich, who’ll have primetime surrogates in the field there this week. There’s no earthly reason for Kasich not to direct his voters to support Cruz given that a Cruz victory would serve his ends too. He’s either an imbecile or in the tank for Trump. End of story.
As for Cruz’s chances of a comeback, here’s a bad sign. How many anti-Trumpers in Indiana will stay home nine days from now because they’re convinced Cruz is a lost cause?
Meanwhile, how many undecideds will surprise the commentariat by tilting towards Trump rather than Cruz? Traditionally that hasn’t happened in closely contested states; undecideds break anti-Trump because they’ve already formed a strong opinion of The Donald. If they haven’t already decided to support him by the time voting begins, chances are they’re not going to. There’s an X factor this time, though, and it’s showing up in both Indiana and Pennsylvania: Opinions of Cruz have deteriorated a bit lately while opinions of Trump are either stable or have improved on balance. Top is Indiana, bottom is Pennsylvania:
Much depends on who, exactly, has soured on him lately. If it’s Trump fans deciding that they hate Cruz rather than merely dislike him then this doesn’t mean much for the state of the race. These numbers do remind me, though, that a recent private poll had Cruz ahead in the state not long ago but lately found him slipping into a tie with Trump. Maybe it’s not just Trumpers who’ve grown cooler to him. Why the slide in perceptions of Cruz? I assume it’s due to Trump’s “rigged system” whining, which, Nate Silver notes, has been successful not only in persuading many voters that he deserves the nomination with a mere plurality of delegates but has bent the media towards his narrative in subtle ways too. Cruz wants Republicans to see his advantage in delegate wrangling as a referendum on basic managerial competence. He and his team learned the rules, they organized their supporters at the state level, and now they’re cleaning up. You can’t trust the presidency to a guy who finds himself being routed at a task as simple as that. Trump’s counter is that delegate wrangling is undemocratic and a deliberate attempt by the dreaded establishment to subvert the popular will. Who do you suppose will win that argument in the sort of populist climate we’re experiencing this year? Cruz or the guy with $2 billion in earned media?
I’ll leave you with this, which doesn’t strictly contradict what I just said but is worth considering. If Cruz is paying a price for outwitting Trump at the delegate level, Hoosiers are nonetheless still plenty open to the idea of nominating someone other than Trump. That may be the most encouraging result in this poll for Cruzers, in fact. The more Indiana comes to see its primary as less a choice between Trump and Cruz than a choice between Trump and the excitement of a contested convention, the better it is for Cruz potentially.