On April 25, 2016, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Texas Senator Ted Cruz formed an unlikely alliance to curb the unprecedented political success seen by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. After Trump’s decisive (and startling) victory in New York, the other two GOP candidates decided to step to the side in certain key states—Kasich in Indiana and Cruz in Oregon and New Mexico— to allow the other a clearer path to victory.
The tactic may end up having an impact on Trump’s delegate count. New York Times politics and policy writer Nate Cohn observed, “As I wrote recently, the whole Republican contest could come down to Indiana. The state has 57 pledged delegates, and it awards those delegates on a winner-take-all basis statewide and by congressional district. As a result, the difference between a narrow win and a loss is huge for Mr. Trump. If he wins statewide— even by a point—it will be fairly easy for him to reach 1,237 delegates with a victory in California” (The New York Times, “Why Cruz-Kasich Deal Has the Potential to Stop Trump,” 04.25.2016). However, due to the fraught nature of this recent alliance and the irregular nature of polling, the weaknesses and implications of the alliance implicitly indicate larger issues within the GOP and its future as a party.
Trump responded in typical Trump fashion. “Wow, just announced that Lyin’ Ted and Kasich are going to collude in order to keep me from getting the Republican nomination. DESPERATION!” (Twitter, 04.24.2016). His director of social media went on to assert via Twitter, “Two losing politicians–mathematically eliminated from receiving the nomination–trying something NEW! They will FAIL!”
While it is always easy to dispel Trump’s sensationalist ravings on social media, he may actually—I can’t believe I’m writing this—have a point.
Despite Cohn’s argument that the Indiana primary may halt momentum, it is crucial to note that Donald Trump’s campaign is supported by a populace with deep disillusionment in the state of establishment politics. Is it not possible for the recent Cruz-Kasich alliance to energize and generate even more support for Trump’s institution-shattering campaign? As reporters Matt Flegenheimer and Jonathan Martin wrote, “For Mr. Trump, who has argued repeatedly in recent days that Republican leaders are conspiring to stop him as part of a ‘rigged’ nominating system, the new alliance against him could provide further evidence for his argument to his grass-roots supporters” (The New York Times, “Ted Cruz and John Kasich to Coordinate Against Donald Trump,” 04.25.2016).
The potential impacts of this alliance may prove to be even more damaging to the “Never Trump” movement. While I’m still reckoning with whether or not the bizarre coalition is effective or productive in any way, what truly astounds me is what this could mean for the GOP. The political posturing of Kasich and Cruz’s campaigns serves as an unexpected complication into the circus narrative that constitutes the 2016 Republican primaries.
Let’s start with the Texas senator. Ted Cruz’s statement read, “Having Donald Trump at the top of the ticket in November would be a sure disaster for Republicans … To ensure that we nominate a Republican who can unify the Republican Party and win in November, our campaign will focus its time and resources in Indiana and in turn clear the path for Gov. Kasich to compete in Oregon and New Mexico” (Ted Cruz 2016, “Cruz campaign releases statement on upcoming primaries,” 04.24.2016).
Cruz’s campaign statement diverges significantly from past statements surrounding his relationship with John Kasich. In the past, Cruz has accused Kasich of being a spoiler in the race and postured that Kasich was potentially vying to be Trump’s vice president. The sudden 180 hints at a renewed sense of political pragmatism within the right-wing candidate. The campaign has prided itself on ideological purity and its appeals to hard-line conservatism. Therefore, the recent decision to form an alliance with Kasich functions as a crucial turning point in Cruz’s rhetoric.
In his March anti-Trump speech, 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney echoed similar sentiments, saying, “If the other candidates can find some common ground, I believe we can nominate a person who can win the general election … I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state” (The New York Times, “Transcript of Mitt Romney’s Speech on Donald Trump,” 03.03.2016).
While politicians and pundits on the left and the right criticized Romney’s speech for simply rehashing tired, hackneyed, obvious criticisms of Donald Trump, it nonetheless set a new, more aggressive tone for the Republican establishment’s treatment of Trump. This tone has now manifested itself in the dissonant marriage between a relationally moderate Republican from Ohio and an evangelical Christian who is hated by some of the most distinguished members of his party.
Similarly, Kasich’s statement (Kasich has explicitly stated that he is not encouraging people to actively vote for Ted Cruz in those key states) read, “Our goal is to have an open convention in Cleveland, where we are confident a candidate capable…will emerge as the nominee. We believe that will be John Kasich, who is the only candidate who can defeat Secretary Clinton and preserve our GOP majority in the Congress” (John Kasich 2016, “Kasich campaign statement on upcoming primaries,” 04.24.2016). It’s interesting to note that, despite being in third place and having significantly fewer delegates than his rivals, Kasich and his campaign are more confident. Their statement places more focus on Kasich as a candidate rather than the newly-formed partnership. Shifting focus from the partnership to Kasich himself underscores the campaign’s tone of Kasich as the only stable, moderate candidate running in the GOP primary.
It’s a positive and potentially productive first step that Kasich and Cruz recognize how irreversibly damaging a Trump presidency could be to our country. However, if there is anything to be learned from this decision, it is that the GOP is crumbling before our eyes and, perhaps for the first time, candidates are actively acknowledging it (albeit tenuously, given Kasich’s remarks about voting for Cruz). The primaries have been a litmus test for the palpability of the Republican Party’s platform and establishment figures; Trump’s rise functions as a rejection of that framework, especially among the working class.
While I normally wouldn’t give much attention to the Republican primaries given that I will never vote in one, the dangers of a Trump presidency are readily apparent. Despite the fact that anything that could hopefully prevent the former host of Celebrity Apprentice from becoming president of the most powerful country in the world, there is a major, striking issue that must be raised in regards to Kasich and Cruz’s newfound alliance.
Overall, the alliance fails to properly acknowledge the context behind Trump’s rise. The GOP’s curtailing of LGBTQ rights, its gutting of the Voting Rights Act and its unfair and unabashed repudiation of anything Barack Obama says or does have created an atmosphere conducive to Trump’s rise. Obama gave a speech in Austin in March in which he said that Trump was a “distillation of what has been going on in their party for more than a decade… This is the message that’s been fed–that you just deny the evidence of science. That compromise is a betrayal. That the other side isn’t simply wrong, we disagree … So they can’t be surprised when somebody says, ‘I can make up stuff better than that’” (CNN Politics, “Obama derides GOP establishment’s Trump dilemma,” 03.12.2016). The Republican Party is in need of long-term reform if a Trump-like figure is to be avoided in the future. The coalition acknowledges Trump as a problem but does not recognize why he was allowed to exist in the political sphere in the first place. As the complicated and multilayered carnival act of the Republican primaries continues, the Republican establishment and its candidates must realize that they let this happen and take the necessary steps to restructure internally.