Desperate times call for desperate measures. The campaigns of Ted Cruz and John Kasich announced Sunday evening that they have brokered a deal to divvy up three states on the Republican calendar in the latest last-ditch effort to block Donald Trump from the nomination.
Under the unusual agreement, which was finalized on the sidelines of last week's Republican National Committee spring meeting, Kasich will give up on Indiana's May 3 primary to clear the way for Cruz to go head-to-head with Trump there, and Cruz will give up on Oregon's May 17 primary and New Mexico's June 7 primary to do the same for Kasich.
The plan, however, does not extend to any of the other 13 remaining primaries, including five in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic today, or the delegate-rich contest in California on the final day of the GOP primary season in June. It's also a passive alliance, rather than an active one. Both men have agreed not to campaign in the state(s) they've ceded to the other, but there's nothing to suggest either will publicly encourage his supporters to vote for the other when the time comes. That could come back to bite them if a significant slice of voters don't get the message, particularly in Indiana where Trump could claim a majority of delegates with only a plurality of votes.
According to the New York Times, Kasich's team had hoped to strike this type of divide-and-conquer deal last month, but the Cruz campaign balked at the idea given its candidate's relative strength. Flash-forward to today, and Cruz has been mathematically eliminated from clinching the nomination during primary season and so it's contested-convention-or-bust for his 2016 dreams. Kasich, meanwhile, will take pretty much whatever he can get. He won a combined four delegates in the last five GOP contests and still trails Rubio in total delegates even though the Florida senator dropped out of the race more than a month ago.
Trump's strength in the delegate-heavy Northeast has put increased importance on Indiana, which offers the most bound delegates of any remaining contest other than California. Surveys show Trump with a decent lead on Cruz, with Kasich in a distant third-place. With Kasich removed, though, the race narrows considerably. A Fox News poll taken last week found Trump with a 2-point advantage in two-man contest with the Texan.
But because the deal makes sense for Cruz and Kasich doesn't mean it will actually be enough to derail Trump, particularly since the abrupt alliance will give the real estate tycoon yet another chance to rail against the system he says is "rigged" against him. If Cruz knocks Trump further off his path to the nomination, the whole thing will, of course, look brilliant. But if Trump prevails in Indiana, there will rightfully be plenty of second-guessing about why Cruz and Kasich waited so long to strike the deal, and why they stopped short of a full-fledged partnership. Both men stand to gain more than they lose from their current deal. If they really want to stop Trump, though, eventually one or both may need to make a decision that actually works against their own self-interest.