When Ted Cruz and John Kasich announced their new found ‘alliance’ on Monday morning, many questioned how long such a pact could really last. The better question, in my opinion, is what both presidential candidates thought they stood to gain from this alliance in the first place. On first consideration it seems to make some sense – the two remaining ‘establishment’ Republican candidates teaming up to ensure the ‘outsider’ Donald Trump (who they find threatening to the well being of their party) does not pick up the necessary number of delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination before the convention. But, this plan was bound to fail from the outset, and will likely only harm Cruz and Kasich’s reputations in the long run.
The most important roadblock to this plan is that, simply put, Cruz and Kasich appeal to very different sets of voters; Cruz is the highly conservative Tea Party candidate while Kasich does a fine job at depicting himself as the only moderate Republican option. Both sides are going to have a very difficult job convincing their voters to support a candidate that does not represent their interests, even if it is to defeat a common enemy.
Furthermore, neither Cruz nor Kasich will ever outwardly tell their supporters to vote for the other, which Kasich admitted yesterday when he told reporters, “I’ve never told them not to vote for me; they should vote for me.” The campaigns are assuming that the voters will go with their plan and vote for the candidate that the two campaigns have designated each state ought to ‘go’ to. However, I think this overestimates how dedicated the majority of individual voters are. It is far more likely that they will simply not vote rather than vote for a candidate that is politically far removed from their opinions and values. This will only help Trump, as supporters that were planning to vote for him will continue to do so, while the rest of the Republican voter base will feel less motivated to head to the polls. This is, of course, assuming that every voter even hears about the plan; given the number of Americans who avoid consuming traditional media about politics, Cruz and Kasich’s plan might not even reach most of voters, who will then continue to vote for whichever candidate they previously supported.
Cruz and Kasich’s agreement essentially means that only one of the two candidates will actively campaign in each state to avoid drawing voters away from each other. This relates to the idea that name recognition is a large component of which candidate voters choose to support if they go into the polls with low levels of political knowledge. So, if a voter lives in Indiana (where Kasich has agreed not to campaign), they will supposedly be more inclined to vote for Cruz (where he is actively campaigning) than if both Cruz and Kasich were vying for the voter’s attention. However, this seems to ignore the fact that the majority of voters probably already know about Trump, based on the high volume of media coverage (through both traditional and entertainment new sources) he has received in this campaign cycle. It seems to me that if someone has already decided they like Trump, a few polished campaign advertisements are unlikely to win this voter over (since this is essentially the opposite of what Trump embodies). If, however, a voter has decided not to vote for Trump, it might be a better strategy to provide them with information on as many other options as possible, so as to attract them to vote in the primary at all (especially since, as noted before, Cruz and Kasich support different policies).
In the end, the Cruz-Kasich agreement may not aggressively affect the outcome of the election, since Trump seems poised to continue gathering delegates in the remaining primaries (including in the 5 Northeastern states voting today). This New York Times ‘Delegate Math’ piece shows that it is not unrealistic for Trump to expect to clear the 1,237 delegate mark before the Republican convention to make him the uncontested nominee for the Republican party. Cruz and Kasich, of course, are hoping that they each might be the party’s nominee if the convention were to be contested (the only reason why these two would pair up in the first place). It seems more likely, however, that their agreement will be remembered as a failed piece of political manipulation and maneuvering – one that harkens back to why voters are flocking from the ‘establishment’ to Trump in the first place.