April 25, 2016

Might Work, Might Not

Ted Cruz and John Kasich have cooked up an interesting scheme to help keep Donald Trump from accumulating the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination for president on the first ballot. They announced yesterday that Kasich will not campaign in Indiana, which has its primary on May 3. Cruz, on the other hand, will not contest the primary in Oregon on May 17 or that in New Mexico on June 7. The two candidates have encouraged their supporters to follow their lead in reducing competition in the three states. The agreement comes too late to have an effect on the April 26 primaries, and there is no agreement regarding contests in Nebraska, West Virginia, Washington, California, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, or South Dakota.

The theory behind this desperate move is that, with only two active candidates in these races, the non-Trump votes will be concentrated for either Cruz or Kasich, resulting in fewer delegates for Trump. This theory depends on voters (and, I suppose, independent campaign spenders) being as anti-Trump as are Cruz, Kasich, and other Republican Party leaders. Don’t count on it.

Will, for example, a Kasich supporter in Indiana vote for Cruz because Kasich has stepped aside? Were Cruz and Kasich very similar candidates, this might be likely. I think—I am greatly simplifying here—that Kasich is viewed as a center-right candidate and Cruz is viewed as a far-right candidate. Trump, on the other hand, is sui generis. One can easily imagine a Kasich voter viewing Trump as a reasonably second choice. Likewise, a Cruz voter might also see Trump as a viable second choice. One should therefore not assume that all the votes for the candidate stepping aside will go to the other non-Trump candidate. The effect might be to assure that Trump receives a majority of the votes. On the other hand, the candidate agreement may have little effect, as some voters will want to vote for their favored candidate no matter what.

The agreement between Cruz and Kasich may have the desired effect, but I doubt it.

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