Ted Cruz and John Kasich are teaming up for a last-ditch effort to stop Donald Trump from winning the Republican nomination.
It's a divide and conquer strategy: Cruz, with Kasich's blessing, will emphasize winning Indiana, and Kasich, with Cruz's blessing, will focus on winning the primaries in Oregon and New Mexico.
The two candidates, who have been trailing behind Trump from the beginning of the election cycle, are hoping they will be able to trigger a contested convention by preventing the Republican frontrunner from winning a 1,237 delegate majority — a delegate count that would automatically give Trump the Republican nomination.
"Our goal is to have an open convention in Cleveland, where we are confident a candidate capable of uniting the Party and winning in November will emerge as the nominee," the Kasich campaign said in a statement Sunday night. The deal was affirmed by a statement from Cruz's campaign manager Jeff Roe:
To ensure that we nominate a Republican who can unify the Republican Party and win in November, our campaign will focus its time and resources in Indiana and in turn clear the path for Gov. Kasich to compete in Oregon and New Mexico, and we would hope that allies of both campaigns would follow our lead. In other states holding their elections for the remainder of the primary season, our campaign will continue to compete vigorously to win.
Trump has a significant lead over the other two candidates, with 847 delegates. Cruz has won 546 delegates and Kasich has 149 delegates.
This isn't the first time the Republican candidates have attempted to make a last-gasp effort at stopping the reality-show business mogul. Back when Marco Rubio was still in the race, his spokesperson Alex Conant all but told Rubio supporters to vote for Kasich in Ohio, hoping the Ohio governor would return the favor for Rubio in Florida. Kasich did not reciprocate. But in that case it wouldn't have made that much of a difference in the final outcome, as Rubio lost his home state of Florida to Trump by a substantial margin.
Now, as the chances for a Trump nomination lately have gotten even better, the statements finally seemed to be some successful coordination among his rivals.
But on Monday morning, Kasich himself sounded a discordant note — emphasizing that while his campaign is no longer focusing on Indiana, he still hopes his supporters there will vote for him and not for Cruz.
Kasich, asked whom his supporters in Indiana should vote for: "I've never told them not to vote for me. They ought to vote for me."— Thomas Kaplan (@thomaskaplan) April 25, 2016
Anecdotally, Kasich supporters in Indiana haven't warmed up to the idea of voting for Cruz, MSNBC's Tony Dokoupil reported from the largest early voting place in the state.
"Typical politician – can't make a deal work," Trump tweeted, reacting to Kasich's conflicting remarks.
This deal is really all about Indiana
Compared to Cruz, Kasich will benefit somewhat less from this deal.
That's because Indiana allots its 57 delegates winner-take-all statewide and by congressional district. So if Cruz outright wins the state and most of its districts, he'll get a lot of delegates. Oregon and New Mexico, in contrast, use proportional allocation, which ensures the delegates will be split among the candidates.
Overall, though, the implications matter most for Indiana, since it's one of the two most consequential states that still appears up for grabs, along with California. And while polling has shown Trump ahead there, his lead is relatively narrow — meaning that if Kasich's votes swing to Cruz, the Texas senator could pull off a victory.
A win in Indiana would make a substantial dent in Trump's bid for the nomination. The New York Times' Nate Cohn explains:
It may sound strange, but when you start gaming out the rest of the primary contest, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that his quest to reach a majority of delegates before the convention could all turn on Indiana. If you divvy up the states by expected results, Mr. Trump wins big in the East and West Virginia, loses the winner-take-all rural Western states, and earns his expected share of proportional delegates in Washington, Oregon and New Mexico.
That puts him about 175 delegates short of the required 1,237. Only two real tossup states remain: California (172 delegates) and Indiana (57).
You can see the basic issue: If he doesn’t win Indiana, he has to sweep California and get some lucky breaks elsewhere, which isn’t realistic. He would need an upset in a state like Montana, in a region that has been hostile to him.
Needless to say, Trump isn't thrilled with this partnership:
Lyin' Ted Cruz and 1 for 38 Kasich are unable to beat me on their own so they have to team up (collusion) in a two on one. Shows weakness!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2016
This piece has been updated to include Kasich's Monday morning remarks.