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The Cruz-Kasich Pact: A Fair Fight

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Here are three things to know about the non-aggression pact between Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who have now vowed to work together to defeat Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. Kasich will cede the opposition to Trump in Indiana to Cruz, while Cruz will give Kasich a chance to win in New Mexico and Oregon.

1. Even though this deal is unlikely to change the eventual allocation of delegates by much, a small swing could have a huge effect. As NBC’s Mark Murray points out, at least one poll shows that if Kasich is removed from the Indiana competition, Trump’s lead of eight percentage points drops to two points ahead of Cruz. Indiana has some statewide winner-take-all delegates and some delegates who are winner-take-all by congressional district, so finishing first (statewide and in congressional districts) is what matters, not the margin of victory.

In the primaries that remain, Indiana is second in importance only to California when measured by the number of delegates up for grabs, according to current polling. Anti-Trump forces have to stop him in those two states to have any hope of preventing him from reaching 1,237 bound delegates -- the number needed for the nomination. Indiana votes on May 3; California’s election is June 7, the last day of the primaries. 

2. No one should be shocked when politicians act strategically. What has been surprising about the Kasich campaign so far is that he hasn’t appeared to be acting as a strategic politician. He skipped the Iowa caucuses, for example, never a successful decision for any presidential candidate, and has emphasized his moderate credentials instead of positioning himself as a mainstream conservative. He has run hard in primaries where he had no chance, even in states (such as Utah) where the delegate rules meant that votes for him would throw more delegates to Trump, making Kasich’s goal -- an open convention -- more difficult to reach. Most perplexing of all, he has remained an active candidate despite having no chance to win ever since his disappointing distant second-place finish in New Hampshire.  

If the Ohio governor acts to boost the anti-Trump camp, it’s still hard to see any possibility that he will be nominated, but if he cares about the opinion of his party’s actors going forward, he’ll work hard to deny Trump the nomination. 

3. As for Trump’s continuing whine about the unfairness of it all: No, the system isn’t “rigged” against him. Of course, candidates whom the party likes have advantages in winning party nominations. It isn’t unfair to Trump that the other candidates are trying to do the best they can under the well-established rules.

The two fundamental problems for Donald Trump are that Republican Party actors don’t trust him to be a strong general-election candidate, or to be loyal to the party if he were to become president. Indeed, right now, Trump’s polling numbers point to disaster for Republicans in November. 

Unless Trump manages to change those numbers, and the perception that he would be an unreliable ally in the Oval Office if he somehow managed to win, his opponents are going to try to find ways to block him. Complaining about the unfairness of having to face opposition and play by the established rules may appeal to swing voters in the remaining Republican primaries, but it’s not going to erase the challenges he faces.

  1. Theoretically, Kasich could win on a second or later ballot of a contested convention. But this is also true for candidates who have dropped out or who never even ran. And because rank-and-file Republicans in state after state have no interest in him, he's unlikely to attract support from delegates at any point.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net