Analysis:: Can Donald Trump come out the winner despite the Cruz-Kasich deal to block him?
Ted Cruz and John Kasich may well have been forced by money problems and desperation into an alliance divvying upcoming states in a move to block Donald Trump from the Republican presidential nomination.
The problem? That same sort of insider deal-cutting is what spawned revulsion with the political class that has in turn propelled Trump’s campaign. The deal now risks inspiring even more rage within the voters he has energized in this electoral cycle.
Perhaps the plan, in which Sen. Cruz of Texas will campaign in Indiana and Ohio Gov. Kasich in Oregon and New Mexico, will drive one of them to the party’s nomination after a wild convention in Cleveland this summer. But from the outset, some odds are stacked against it.
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Trump already has hundreds more delegates than second-place Cruz, and Kasich has only a few outside of his home state. The campaign is only six weeks from its end, with only 10 states waiting to vote after Tuesday’s primaries, when odds are Trump will record huge victories.
It’s not certain that abandoned voters in the upcoming states would turn instead to the other non-Trump candidate. And it was not even clear the two candidates would ask their voters to do that. Kasich, for one, said he hoped his voters would continue to side with him in Indiana, which seemed to negate much of the point.
Trump wasted no time Monday in reminding Republicans yet to vote — and the delegates that he hopes to win over before the convention — that insider tactics are part of the political environment they so hate.
Voters casting ballots in Republican races this year have had a strong affinity for sending an outsider to the White House, exit polls have shown, and that has been a huge benefit to Trump in places as different as New York, Florida and the Southern states.
In last week’s New York primary, 64% of Republican voters said they wanted an outsider as president rather than an experienced politician. Among the outsider voters, Trump won 85%.
In a state Trump didn’t win — Cruz’s home state of Texas — 45% wanted an outsider, higher than the percentage favoring an experienced politician. Trump won 61% of those voters.
The same dynamic was true in Alabama and Georgia in the South, Massachusetts and Vermont to the north, and traditional general-election swing states like Nevada and Virginia. In Florida, always a general-election target, 52% of Republicans wanted an outsider, and Trump won 74%.
The stakes involved in doing anything that further upsets Trump’s voters were made clear in a Suffolk University/USA Today national poll released Monday. In it, Trump led among Republicans with 45%, to 29% for Cruz and 17% for Kasich.
About 7 in 10 Trump voters said the candidate who has the most delegates at the end of the primaries should get the nomination — and that is the position that Trump is likely to be in regardless of the Cruz-Kasich deal.
By a 2-1 margin, Trump’s voters said they would support a third-party effort by the New York businessman if he did not get the nomination. Trump may decide against that dramatic gesture, of course, but the results suggested the depths of anger that the GOP would face if the nomination process didn’t go his way.
Deals like the one struck by Cruz and Kasich, though long desired by establishment Republicans this year as Trump tallied victories, are not typical of presidential campaigns.
Both Cruz and Kasich had reached the point of urgency: Both want a convention fight in which pledged delegates will eventually be relieved of their promise to support a specific candidate — and, both think, switch to them.
But getting there would mean fighting not only with Trump but also with each other. Some of that will ease with the deal.
Both of them also lack the money to compete in every remaining contest as the campaign season drags on longer than anticipated. At the end of March, Kasich’s campaign had just over $1 million in the bank, while Cruz’s had less than $9 million. In California, which votes June 7, a week of television ads can cost $3 million to $4 million.
The two had to make their alliance public partly to alert their allies in super PACs and independent organizations. But that let voters know too, creating some early discomfort.
Tom John, an Indiana party official named to Kasich’s Indiana steering committee only Wednesday, looked distinctly uneasy Monday when asked during a CNN interview whether he now planned to vote for Cruz.
He ended up quoting an old proverb: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. But he also said he wouldn’t decide for sure whether to switch to Cruz until he got into the voting booth next week.
The Cruz-Kasich deal seems likely to put the final flourish to an odd recalibration in the public images of the Republican candidates.
Cruz came into the race the enemy of official Washington, having intensely angered Republicans with his efforts to shut down the government and his willingness to impugn party major-domos like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he labeled a liar.
But in a year in which Trump, the businessman-turned-entertainer, has thwarted political normalcy to the extreme and redefined authenticity with his often angry denunciations, Cruz has looked more a part of the establishment than he has ever actually been.
Cruz’s and Kasich’s insider standing was reinforced Monday. Just days removed from assailing each other, Cruz and Kasich spoke in stilted language about the deal’s communal effect on their “resources” — a word they both used — even as their aides and associates spoke from agreed-to talking points about the wisdom of it all.
Cruz and Kasich also played down the agreement; ”What’s the big deal?” a testy Kasich said during a visit to a Philadelphia diner.
Trump, in contrast, was up to his usual tricks of hyperbole, the ones that have worked so well for him among so many Republican voters this year. He went in for the kill, saying in a Rhode Island speech that the two were colluding — a legally loaded term — and calling their attempt to take him down “pathetic.”
If his effort to cast it as one of political expediency works, the deal could prove to be a costly one for two candidates with few additional cards to play.
Follow me on Twitter: @cathleendecker. For more on politics, go to latimes.com/decker.
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