With his campaign for the Republican nomination seemingly at death's door, Ted Cruz is trying one last time to make a comeback — by naming Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential pick.
"After a great deal of consideration and prayer," Cruz said at a Wednesday afternoon rally in Indiana, "I have come to the conclusion that if I am nominated to be president of the United States, then I will run on a ticket with my vice presidential nominee Carly Fiorina."
The announcement comes as Donald Trump's campaign looks more dominant than ever, following the billionaire's sweep of five Northeastern states on Tuesday. Trump now has nearly twice as many delegates as Ted Cruz, and it looks increasingly likely that he'll win the delegate majority he needs — or get quite close to it — before the GOP convention.
So it may seem odd that Cruz, who is clearly losing, is announcing his vice presidential pick, which is something usually done by winners. Indeed, there's little apparent precedent for a presidential candidate to pick a running mate while the primaries are still going on.
But what little precedent there is indicates that this is a desperation move. For instance, a few weeks before the Republican convention (and after voting had concluded), Ronald Reagan named Sen. Richard Schweiker as his running mate in an effort to regain momentum for his primary challenge against President Gerald Ford. It didn't work, though — Ford won the nomination.
The same thing's going on here — days before the Indiana primary, which is being interpreted as a do-or-die moment for Cruz's campaign, the Texas senator is trying to change the subject from Trump's likely nomination. He hasn't been able to beat Trump alone, so, he figures, perhaps the combination of himself and Fiorina will be able to.
Why Cruz seems to have picked Fiorina
Fiorina may seem like a strange pick. She has never held elected office, and her presidential campaign ended dismally — despite a brief poll surge last fall, she ended up finishing in seventh place in both Iowa and New Hampshire before quitting the race.
But Cruz apparently has three rationales for choosing her.
First, Cruz desperately needs to win Indiana this coming Tuesday. In the eyes of the media and politicos, if he loses to Trump in the Hoosier State, his campaign will go from mostly dead to entirely dead. And recent polls have shown him, in fact, losing to Trump. So he's just trying to do something — anything! — to get some media attention and hopefully shake up the race before then.
Second, the most important state remaining in the primaries is California, where there are 172 delegates at stake. Fiorina, as it happens, won a Republican Senate primary in California in 2010, though she lost the general election. She has since moved to Virginia, but perhaps some California GOP voters will be more inclined to vote for Cruz if they know she is his running mate.
Third, Fiorina is perhaps the only Republican politician who has actually managed to put Trump on the defensive during this campaign. After Trump mocked her appearance, she brutally cut him down to size during a September debate, leaving him stammering and somewhat apologetic in response.
With that in mind, why not sic Fiorina on Trump in the traditional "attack dog" role for a vice presidential nominee? It can't hurt to have Fiorina constantly booked on TV and hammering Trump for the next few weeks.
This probably won't matter
But while we of course don't know exactly how this will play out, I'm skeptical it will make too much of a difference in the race. Vice presidential picks seem to have little effect on voting in a general election — people are casting their ballot for the person at the top of the ticket. (Fiorina's name won't be on the ballot anywhere.)
Additionally, as mentioned above, Fiorina has shown little ability to actually win votes. She couldn't win a Senate seat in California and she couldn't finish better than seventh place in any state this year. So why exactly would voters flock to Cruz now that he's united with her?
Furthermore, Fiorina's effectiveness as an attack dog will be limited because she won't ever be in the same room as Trump in the next few weeks. The September debate exchange seemed so devastating because of Trump's flustered, in-the-moment response to it. Chances are slim that the freshly ascendant Trump would let himself go anywhere near her again.