April 2, 2016
The Opinion Pages | New York Times Editorial
Why Should ‘Never Trump’ Mean Ted Cruz?–Maybe Kasich
America’s Choice–Who will be President?
With more than half of the 2016 presidential primary races in the history books, Republicans desperate to deny Donald Trump their party’s nomination now say Wisconsin, where Ted Cruz is leading, will show that their effort has turned the tide. They shouldn’t start bragging yet.
At a televised Republican town hall on Tuesday, it was painful to watch farmers, students and a man whose son died of a drug overdose pose earnest questions to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, who were more interested in attacking each other. Only John Kasich connected with these voters.
Despite its noble aim and big budget, “Never Trump” has become a panicky reaction in search of a strategy. In Wisconsin, “Never Trump” means “How About Cruz?” as self-interested leaders like Governor Scott Walker try to sell Republicans on a dangerously reactionary senator as an improvement over a dangerously ignorant businessman. But for the state’s — and the nation’s — moderate conservatives, “Never Trump” should more logically mean “Maybe Kasich.”
The framework that Mitt Romney sketched for a “Never Trump” movement on March 3 rested on an analysis of delegate allocation rules in the remaining primary states. If Mr. Trump continued to win pluralities in winner-take-all states, he could easily nab the nomination. But through careful engineering and the targeted use of resources, those states could be won by the other candidates, throwing the nomination to the convention.
Maybe Kasich needs to win big to stand a chance
“We can nominate a person who can win the general election and who will represent the values and policies of conservatism,” Mr. Romney said, adding that he would back whoever had the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.
Marco Rubio’s loss in Florida was a big setback, leaving only two challengers to Mr. Trump. But in Utah, Mr. Romney’s strategy worked. Mormons offended by Mr. Trump’s comments about Muslims delivered a hefty winner-take-all state to Mr. Cruz.
In some coming states and districts, voter data indicates that Mr. Kasich, not the ultraconservative, evangelical Mr. Cruz, could be more competitive. Yet there’s been no real effort by “Never Trump” leaders on Mr. Kasich’s behalf. Indeed, some Republicans are pressuring the Ohio governor to quit and coalescing around Mr. Cruz, a candidate who was once almost as unthinkable to them as Mr. Trump and should still be.
This is happening even though the numbers are there to deprive Mr. Trump of the nomination without delivering it to Mr. Cruz on a platter, says Henry Olsen, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Washington. “If your goal is ‘Never Trump,’ you should put your bets on the best candidate depending on the delegate allocation rules and the demographics of the state,” he says.
This means “Never Trump” backers would help Mr. Cruz in California’s Los Angeles media market and Central Valley, and in New Mexico, South Dakota, Indiana and Montana, which favor him. And they would work to deliver Delaware, the San Francisco Bay area, the Philadelphia suburbs, and urban areas in New York State to Mr. Kasich.
Mr. Olsen calls this a “cartel approach.” However, he says, the Republican leaders he has talked to have trouble accepting this idea. The problem is basically self-interest. Some conservative leaders see Mr. Cruz as their best chance for maintaining their influence and are thus reluctant to work for Mr. Kasich. Others who backed Jeb Bush or Mr. Rubio resent Mr. Kasich for not yielding to their candidate. Others worry that Mr. Kasich’s views on the poor, Muslims and immigrants place him too far from the right to win in a brokered convention.
But in a year when cruelty and exclusion stand as hallmarks of conservatism, “It would be courageous to stand up and say that Kasich is a different kind of conservative,” who doesn’t see government, or foreigners, as enemies, Mr. Olsen says. “These voters exist, and there’s a lot of them.” He adds that Mr. Kasich should be doing better at wooing them.
Mr. Cruz has been trying to bully Mr. Kasich from the race by billing himself as the only viable alternative to Mr. Trump. It would be ironic if Mr. Cruz became the candidate of a party whose leaders hate him. But if those leaders can’t find it in themselves to take a more courageous path, they deserve whatever they get.