No time to be cautious.

Photographer: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

Cruz's Risky Bet on Fiorina

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.
Read More.
a | A

Even by the standards of this presidential race, it seems a dubious strategy. Ted Cruz has named Carly Fiorina as his running mate, three months before the Republican convention and with several states yet to hold their primaries. 

Yes, Ronald Reagan did something similar in 1976, in naming Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as his running mate, before the Republican convention named Gerald Ford as its nominee. But Reagan had a specific aim: to sway Republican delegates, and to reach out to other delegates who feared he was too much of an ideologue. 

In Cruz's case with Fiorina, it's less a strategic move than a desperate one. Fiorina has no government experience and lost badly in her previous attempts for elective office. She brings no constituencies or Republican-aligned interest groups with her. After she was trounced in her Senate race in California, she moved away from the Golden State, with no love lost, so it isn't as if she is likely to be helpful in that important primary on June 7. Her national favorability numbers have been consistently below water. 

Cruz's move serves mainly to show the box he is in. He needs to do more than win in Indiana and California to have a shot at the nomination. Even if he can prevent Trump from wrapping up the nomination on June 7, the Texas senator will still need plenty of delegates, and he’s now given away his biggest chit to someone who won't bring in any. 

Nor does Fiorina make sense as a running mate in the general election, if Cruz somehow prevails over Trump. She would likely draw fire for being unprepared for the presidency, given her complete lack of government experience. Because she was eliminated so early in the race for the Republican nomination, it isn't clear she was vetted the way most presidential candidates have been.

It’s possible, as Ross Douthat speculates, that Fiorina was the best person available -- that is, the best who would accept a “running mate” position from a candidate who just got clobbered in several states, is unlikely to win the nomination except in a contentious convention fight, and wouldn’t be a particularly strong nominee even in the best of circumstances.

If so, Cruz would probably have been better off just not naming anyone, at least not until his prospects improve enough that he could attract someone with greater stature. Adding a Scott Walker or Marco Rubio to his ticket would have been a strong sign that the party was still resisting Trump and that supporting Cruz was the only way to do so. Adding Fiorina? It’s showing a weak hand. If Cruz had gained the grudging respect of many in his party, it was for his smart strategic moves that got him this far in the Republican race. 

Choosing Fiorina also reminds us that he was the one who rushed into a government shutdown battle without an exit plan. Good presidents as well as good presidential candidates resist the urge to make important commitments in order to win news cycles.

Maybe Cruz figured that he had to do something that went against the odds. Conservative writer Dan McLaughlin tweets that “Trump handles criticism from women very poorly.” True, her new status as Cruz’s running mate will get Fiorina plenty of time on TV to tweak Trump. But baiting Trump hasn't worked so far.

Bottom line? Cruz needs to win in Indiana this coming Tuesday, but he's still behind in the polls right now. It's hard to see how this gambit changes anything.

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