Cruz and Kasich's Plan To Stop Trump Before Indiana's Primary Has Already Backfired

Nearly two-thirds of Indiana Republicans disapprove of the alliance between John Kasich and Ted Cruz, one day before the state holds their primary vote.
May 2, 2016, 5:19pm
Photo by Cristobal Herrera/EPA

Last week, the campaigns for Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich announced that they had come up with a brilliant plan to stop Donald Trump before he clinches the GOP nomination. Cruz would focus on the Indiana primary on Tuesday, the idea went, while Kasich was be left alone to campaign in Oregon and New Mexico, ahead of their contests later in the primary season.

Or at least they thought it was a brilliant plan.

Now it appears that not only has the "Crusich" alliance failed to give Cruz a meaningful boost in the state, which is critical to the "Stop Trump" movement, but it may have actually backfired. Nearly 60 percent of Indiana Republican voters disapprove of the partnership, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Only 34 percent of likely Republican voters said they approved of the move, but a solid majority said that it would not play a role in their vote.

The same survey shows Trump with a solid lead in Indiana, where he continues to lead Cruz by a double-digit margin. Trump leads with 49 percent of the vote among likely Republican voters in the Hoosier State, while Cruz carries 34 percent. Kasich is in dead last, with 13 percent support.

Even before Indiana Republicans were able to register their lukewarm, bordering on disdainful, reaction, the Cruz-Kasich deal seemed to be doomed. Barely 12 hours after it was announced, Kasich walked back from the agreement, saying last week that Indiana voters still "ought to vote for me." (Despite downplaying the strategy, Kasich seems to be sticking with his end of the bargain and has steered clear of campaigning in the state).

Then last Thursday, Cruz took the denial game one step further.

"There is no alliance," Cruz told reporters in Indiana. "Kasich and I made a determination where to focus our energies, where to focus our assets, where to focus our resources."

Cruz and Kasich's rapid dismissal of their own idea reflects how poorly the strategy has played publicly. The partnership plays perfectly into Trump's central rallying cry of how political insiders are controlling the system and conspiring against him to tamp down his populist support. Indeed, Trump wasted no time in arguing that that is exactly what is happening with Kasich's and Cruz's deal.

"Collusion is often illegal in many other industries and yet these two Washington insiders have had to revert to collusion in order to stay alive," Trump said in a statement responding to the alliance.

What's more, the plan had the distinct smell of a backroom deal cooked up by campaign strategists as an act of pure desperation. Kasich's team first approached Cruz's campaign about forging an alliance after the March 15 primaries, in which Kasich won Ohio — still the only state he has won so far. But Cruz was slow to warm to the idea, according to CNN. It was not until last week, when it became mathematically impossible for Cruz to clinch the nomination, that the two campaigns came together to finalize the deal.

The idea may have seemed like a good one on paper but as the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza pointed out, while campaigns often act strategically, voters do not, nor do they like being told who to vote for. If you're a diehard Kasich supporter in Indiana, it is unlikely you would take one for the team and cast a vote for Cruz instead, considering that the two candidates appeal to wildly different factions of the Republican party. Kasich is the moderate, measured governor, who doesn't mind compromise, while Cruz is a Tea Party firebrand who hates the Washington establishment (or as he calls it, the "Washington cartel") almost as much as they hate him.

The breakdown of the Cruz-Kasich deal comes at a time when the stakes have never been higher for Cruz. The Texas senator desperately needs to do well in Indiana on Tuesday, which awards most of it's 57 delegates to whoever wins the state outright, in order to continue hanging on in the race.

Trump currently has 996 delegates out of the total 1,237 required to clinch the nomination. If Trump sweeps Indiana, which he is widely favored to do according to nearly all of the recent polls, he will only need to win less than half of the remaining delegates to lock down the nomination before the Republican convention. If that happens, it's game over for both Cruz and Kasich.

Cruz is pulling out all the stops before Tuesday's vote to make sure that doesn't happen. His campaign has 10 — yes 10 — scheduled events across the state on Monday, three of which include appearances with Indiana's governor Mike Pence, who endorsed Cruz last week. Cruz will appear at five of the events, while his newly minted running mate, Carly Fiorina, will be making six of the stops. The Texas senator is also blanketing the airwaves with television and radio advertisements, including a new television spot unveiled today that further touts Pence's endorsement.

But despite these efforts, Cruz's crusade to stop Trump appears to be fraying at the seams. Delegates who have pledged to support him are starting to waver about their decision, according to the New York Times, while there are reports of growing anxiety inside his campaign.

After Indiana, there are only a handful of major primaries left on the horizon. California and New Jersey are the biggest ones up for grabs, both of which will vote on June 7 and award a total of 223 delegates.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker