Tuesday night was a bad night, on balance, for #NeverTrump. Trump’s numbers have begun to inch into the 40s, consistently, which is a problem. He won huge delegate hauls in Illinois, North Carolina, and Missouri, even without winning majorities in the state. His margin is starting to look insurmountable; if not for Kasich’s win in Ohio, he would have been.
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz continues to put up the toughest fight against Trump, state to state. Cruz is the best organized, by far; he has built a formidable campaign apparatus. The only Republican running a national campaign, Marco Rubio, is out. Kasich has a very pedestrian operation outside of his home state, where he pulled out all the stops.
The ideal solution, at this stage, is for Cruz and Kasich to run together. Cruz’s operation would run the show; Kasich would attempt to appeal to more moderate Republicans. Kasich would be promised the vice presidential slot, and the party would take its chances in the run-up to the convention.
However, there is little incentive for either to do that. It is likely that Cruz has a running mate or two in mind, and Kasich is about as far away from Cruz as you can be, in terms of intraparty split. Kasich, meanwhile, probably doesn’t want to be an easily-marginalized VP, which he likely would be in a Cruz administration, and he would have a decent shot in a floor fight in his home state.
So the ideal ticket is only ideal in theory; neither Cruz nor Kasich will likely want to accede. Unless, of course, the game changes. There is one way to change the game: Mitt Romney.
Romney has leverage: he is independently wealthy and has a lot of name recognition. The first ballot deadline for running in the general election is Texas’, on May 9. Romney would need to start collecting signatures, soon, though, in order to get on the ballot. A Romney bid in 50 states would mean that neither Ted Cruz nor John Kasich could possibly win. Kasich would likely lose a portion of conservatives to Romney; Cruz would likely lose a portion of moderates to Romney. Neither could successfully pull off their factional bid alone, if Romney were in the picture and on the ballot in 50 states; Romney’s ceiling in that contest might be, say, 5 to 10 percent, but it would certainly be enough to play spoiler in a race against Hillary Clinton.
In other words, if Romney makes a serious effort to get on the ballot, Cruz and Kasich’s chances of winning an election drop dramatically. Romney proclaiming interest in running as an independent right now would represent a credible threat: he has the resources, the name recognition, and the potential appeal to do it. He probably can’t win outright, but he can probably ensure a Cruz or Kasich defeat. And if Trump does end up winning the 1,237 delegates outright, it would be good to have Romney on the ballot, mounting a coherent independent challenge.
So, Romney should call Cruz and Kasich as soon as possible and offer a very simple message: either you join a Cruz/Kasich ticket, or I run as an independent and guarantee your defeat. Romney has nothing to lose; he’s not running for elected office again. And after March 15, Trump likely becomes the nominee anyway if Cruz and Kasich don’t collaborate.
The incentives right now cut against cooperation. But Romney can change those incentives. He should do so.
Image by rawmustard