After Tuesday’s primaries, the Republican nomination fight became a three-man race, but after considering their options, both Ted Cruz and John Kasich have decided to pretend that they’re actually engaged in separate two-man races with Donald Trump.
With Kasich going after GOP moderates and Cruz aiming for tea partiers who’ve yet to be won over by Trump, the two had little reason to interact up to this point. On Wednesday, their campaigns did engage in some mild sniping, but it was entirely focused on who can actually take on the front-runner. According to the New York Times, Jason Johnson, Cruz’s chief strategist, told reporters, “There are only two people who actually have a viable path to the nomination,” and compared Kasich’s campaign to “my dream of making the senior tour on the P.G.A. or my dream of being a Nascar driver — it ain’t going to happen.”
Meanwhile, Kasich rejected allegations that all he can do now is play the role of spoiler. “Neither of those guys can win a general election,” he said of Trump and Cruz. “So maybe they’re spoiling it for the Republican Party and for the conservative movement.”
The Cruz camp’s argument is more accurate. Kasich can only become the nominee via a contested convention, and as New York’s Ed Kilgore noted, a rule enacted during the 2012 election may block the Ohio governor from even having his name placed in nomination. Cruz has a more plausible path, but even his campaign admits it’s a tough one. “It’s very difficult for us to get to 1,237 — we get that,” Johnson said, “but we can get there — and we plan on getting there.”
There’s still a chance that Cruz can secure the nomination by winning a majority of delegates, but now there’s no room for error. CNN reports that the Cruz campaign is pinning its hopes on winning Utah next week, fending off Trump in Wisconsin and his home state of New York next month, and then picking up a significant number of delegates on June 7 with strong showings in California, Montana, and New Mexico.
Kasich’s presence in the race makes that job even harder for Cruz, both by dividing the vote and giving “never Trump” Republicans another option aside from the senator. Politico reports that Cruz has been courting Republicans whose preferred candidates have dropped out of the race, but after building a career on attacking the Washington establishment and alienating nearly all of his Senate colleagues, it’s not easy to secure endorsements. South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, a Marco Rubio supporter, said on Wednesday that she’s “privately praying” for a Cruz win, but she stopped short of endorsing him. Another Rubio backer, Senator James Inhofe, switched to Kasich. “Out of the three still in the race for president, John is my guy,” he said.
There are issues Cruz could highlight to make Kasich less palatable even to Establishment Republicans, such as his support for the 1994 assault-weapons ban or Ohio’s Medicaid expansion, but the Texan seems to view going after Kasich as a distraction. He told CBS News that his “focus is on drawing a contrast with Donald Trump for the nomination and with Hillary Clinton for the general election. That’s where I have been focused. That’s where I intend to continue focusing.”
Johnson concurred, joking that the Cruz campaign won’t delve into Kasich’s record “unless we get bored.” In a race that involves Donald Trump, that seems extremely unlikely.