Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio should both stay in the race. Here’s why going to a unity ticket right now is a disaster and plays into Donald Trump’s plan to take the nomination by acclamation. As a matter of fact, Trump is counting on this kind of thinking.
The delegate count looks like this (as of midnight, without Alaska results)
Trump needs to get to 1,237 to get the nomination. He should have been on pace for 300-400 delegates after a massacre tonight, but he didn’t get there. Rubio and Cruz stopped him. Rubio and Cruz took Minnesota, with Rubio on top, while Cruz took Texas (and decisively) and Oklahoma (with a good margin).
Let’s look at the possibilities.
The states where Cruz does well, Rubio also does well, except for Florida, where the spread between Cruz plus Rubio and Trump is greater than the total: The latest Quinnipiac poll has Rubio at 28 and Cruz at 12, totaling 40, with Trump at 44. With Kasich and Carson still in, Trump must be taken down in order for him to lose there.
Cruz did better than I thought he would in Minnesota, but he doesn’t play well in many northern states (he didn’t break double-digits in Massachusetts), where Rubio does better. If Rubio withdraws, Trump sweeps the northern states, including Maine, Idaho, and Michigan. Then after March 15, there’s Missouri, North Carolina (where Cruz may not do as well as we think), Illinois, and Ohio (where Kasich will win).
Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio are winner-take-all. Then we get to New York (winner-take-most), Maryland, Pennsylvania, and in June–California, and it’s game over. There’s 621 delegates fairly well guaranteed to go to Trump, plus whatever he gets of the proportional states and that doesn’t even include Arizona or Washington. How many of Rubio’s voters will go directly to Cruz? Kasich may simply take Rubio’s place–that might stop Trump all the same, but it’s an enormous gamble which will likely fail.
So what if Cruz withdraws “for the good of the party?”
Then the fate of the race goes to Rubio. Trump claims victory in knocking out one of his primary contenders, who will lose a whole lot of credibility by playing second fiddle to Rubio. Then on March 15, Rubio loses Florida.
Without Cruz plus Rubio, there’s no more firewalls to stop Trump from getting 1,237 delegates and the nomination. Trump knows this.
I believe the best path we have is for both Cruz and Rubio to stay in, and keep the attacks on Trump constant and devastating. They need to lay off each other as much as possible like they did last week. Then when it becomes clear that Trump can’t get to 1,237, they can work out how the convention will go.
Obviously, if either candidate completely tanks (which has not happened by any remote measure), they should withdraw. But a unity ticket right now I think would hurt more than help. It would give Trump one target instead of two. And I think Rubio has a better way of getting under Trump’s skin than Cruz.
In reality, Cruz should have an advantage in Cleveland, given that his data operation identified likely first-time GOP delegate candidates. If you load the front hopper of the delegate selection machine, you’ll get more delegates at the convention. It’s simply math. If Trump can’t win with 1,237 delegates on the first vote (or by acclamation), the delegates will be released to vote for who they personally support. Cruz can win it this way.
It doesn’t matter if Trump supporters are all up in arms because they didn’t get a voice to vote for their candidate at the convention. At that point, their man couldn’t win the majority of delegates in the primaries (which were stacked in Trump’s favor, with hundreds of hours of free media, Astroglide treatment from most of the press, and a huge upswell in new voters). If Trump didn’t do a good job getting his people to the GOP convention, it’s all on him. He might blame “the party” and he might go third party, but he has nothing to say about being pushed out by the establishment.
Of course, by the time Trump realizes he can’t win the nomination, he’ll probably go third party anyway. (Isn’t that the point? To drive Trump from the GOP race?) It takes time to get all those signatures, and it’s easier to exit the race in a blaze of self-righteous glory and anger at betrayal with millions of star-struck followers in a Trumpcoma than to stick it out and lose at the convention.
And that’s one more reason both Cruz and Rubio need to stay in, all the way to the end.