No sooner had Sen. Marco Rubio bowed out of the 2016 presidential race Tuesday night than Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign manager suggested that Ohio Gov. John Kasich follow him to the exit.
“Kasich, if he has a one-state win, his own state, and he gets nothing else and is third or fourth in most states, the math is overwhelming and I don’t know how he is going to stay in,” Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe said at a Cruz rally in Houston as the tallies from primaries in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri rolled in Tuesday night. Roe said he might send Kasich a calculator to help him run the numbers.
By Wednesday morning, the message from the Cruz campaign was less subtle.
“I think any candidate, if you don’t have a clear path to winning, it doesn’t make sense to stay in the race. And I would note, every day John Kasich stays in the race benefits Donald Trump,” Cruz said Wednesday morning on CNN even as Carly Fiorina, who has emerged as Cruz’s chief surrogate in the past week, made the same pitch on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
But, unlike Rubio, whose candidacy had just crashed and burned in a devastating nearly 20-point loss to Trump in the U.S. senator’s home state of Florida, Kasich’s campaign had just taken flight with a 12-point victory over Trump in the governor’s home state of Ohio, dealing Trump his one defeat of the night. (Trump won Missouri by a whisker-thin margin, but Cruz could request a recount.)
Instead of the exit, Kasich headed to Villanova University outside Philadelphia on Wednesday to kick off a campaign swing in the Keystone State, which holds its primary April 26, even as his campaign announced it was buying ads in Utah, which holds caucuses Tuesday, threatening Cruz’s ability to surpass the 50 percent threshold that would gain him all the state’s 40 delegates
“Many Republicans are looking for a non-Cruz, non-Trump alternative,” U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, the Republican congressman from Allentown, Pa. told the local newspaper, the Morning Call, on Tuesday.
“Kasich takes away Cruz’s argument that it’s a two-man race,” said former Texas GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri, who said Kasich would hardly quit when he “just won more delegates than Cruz did last night.”
On Wednesday, the Associated Press delegate tracker had Trump with 673 delegates, Cruz with 411, and Kasich with 143.
With 60 percent of the delegates now allocated, Trump would need to win over half the remaining delegates to gain the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. Cruz would need to claim more than 80 percent of those delegates.
“Cruz really cannot win it outright unless Trump actually collapses,” Rutgers University political scientist David Redlawsk said.
Munisteri, who was a senior adviser to Kentucky’s U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s failed presidential bid but is now neutral, said the Cruz campaign’s expertise in the selection of actual delegates — a process separate from the preference votes in each state — would give him a distinct advantage on a second or third ballot.
But Trump warned Wednesday on CNN that if he were denied the nomination when he was within a wisp of winning it outright, “I think you’d have riots.”
“I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people,” Trump said.
Looking at the political calendar, Cruz’s best days would appear to be behind him.
After underperforming in the South — the senator lost every southern state with the exception of his home state of Texas — a region he had once banked on winning, he soon heads into culturally alien terrain. Contests are upcoming in the blue states of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic — New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland — where Kasich’s more temperate brand of conservatism and Trump’s regional appeal might leave Cruz the odd man out.
Roe said Cruz is still well-positioned for success because 14 of the remaining 22 contests allow only Republicans to participate in the party’s voting, and an additional four allow only Republicans or independents to vote. Trump does best where Democrats can cross over and participate.
When he took the stage Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency, Cruz boasted, “Only two campaigns have plausible paths to the nomination — ours and Donald Trump’s. Only one campaign has beaten Donald Trump over and over and over. Not once, not twice, not three times, but nine times all across the country from Alaska to Maine.”
But Munisteri points out that, outside of Texas, Cruz has only won two primaries — in Oklahoma and Idaho — and that his real success has been in caucus states, where organization is paramount, and that only four caucus states remain.
In addition to the Utah caucuses, 58 delegates are at stake Tuesday in the winner-take-all primary in Arizona — where immigration is a decisive issue and where Trump has the endorsement of former Gov. Jan Brewer and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a famed immigration hardliner.
Roe said that Trump also has a distinct advantage because 55 percent of the votes in Arizona have already been cast in early voting for what was a larger and more fractured field.
Cruz lost another high-profile opportunity to go on the attack against Trump when Fox News canceled a Monday night debate in Salt Lake City after Trump said he wouldn’t be there and Kasich followed suit.
But Trump’s fate might rest mostly with Trump.
Despite his big wins Tuesday, he appeared petulant election night and, calling in to “Morning Joe” on Wednesday, especially imperious.
Asked who he consults with to be sure he is prepared to be president on Day One, Trump, replied, “I am speaking with myself because I have a very good brain. I know what I’m doing.”
(c)2016 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
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