Cruz’s last chance saloon

When you check into the last chance saloon, it pays to have back-up. This is something Ted Cruz has taken to heart, if the surprise appointment of Carly Fiorina as his vice-presidential nominee is anything to go by.

The question most commentators are asking is whether this move will save the Texan senator’s flagging campaign. But to answer this, we must first ask just what kind of campaign Cruz is running.

The truth is that the Republican presidential race has degraded to a point where Donald Trump’s opponents are now driven solely by short-term tactical considerations, rather than long-term strategic goals.

With the GOP frontrunner’s string of crushing victories in this Tuesday’s primaries, he is on course to clinch a clear majority of pledged delegates – dashing any hopes the other two candidates have of nixing his bid at the Republican National Convention.

Only one state stands in his way: Indiana.

The Hoosier State, which votes on May 3, has 57 bound delegates up for grabs. Thirty of these are awarded ‘winner takes all’ based on the statewide vote. Each of the nine congressional districts then yields three delegates to the overall winner of that district’s vote.

This means that a candidate who wins big can claim a rich delegate haul – and a landslide can deliver all 57 to a single campaign. Small wonder that fivethirtyeight.com says that ‘after California … Indiana is probably the most important state remaining’ in the GOP race.

This is why Indiana is Cruz’s last chance saloon. If Trump comes out of this contest empty-handed, it stretches his odds of bagging an overall majority of pledged delegates to improbable lengths – putting a brokered convention back on the table. If he comes out with a sizeable bounty, however, Cruz will have blown his last plausible chance to stop him.

This is where the Fiorina gambit comes in. Though she was knocked out of her own presidential bid in New Hampshire, bowing out with a pitiful four per cent of the vote, Fiorina hits many of the same policy notes as Cruz and overlaps well with his voter constituency, at least on paper: both oppose public funding for abortions; both want to cut the tax code down to size; both want to liberate businesses from federal government bureaucracy. By selecting Fiorina, Cruz is doubling down on his own appeal as a social conservative.

Typically vice-presidential candidates are selected to balance out the name at the top of the ticket and broaden a candidate’s appeal for the general election. Yet Cruz’s pick is tactical, not strategic, and Fiorina burnishes his rightwing credentials at just the right time. Indiana is rich with social and religious conservatives who should naturally align with Cruz – and may be tipped over into his column by his choice of Fiorina as running mate. Her selection may also boost Cruz’s appeal with women voters, who are largely turned off by Trump’s bombastic misogyny.

Her selection, though, may prove a double-edged sword if Cruz captures Indiana and then goes on to squeak the Republican nomination at a deadlocked convention. For one, she does nothing to broaden the Texan’s appeal beyond his own constituency. She is even from the same state as Cruz.

For another, like Cruz and Trump she is tagged as an ‘anti-establishment’ candidate, who will – like them – struggle to woo the GOP faithful come the general election. If Cruz really wanted to unite the party, he could have courted Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio – both true representatives of the Republican mainstream.

Perhaps he did, and was rebuffed. Perhaps Fiorina was his last pick, rather than his first.

Whatever the reason, Cruz has now made his final play. Even if Fiorina proves his lucky charm in Indiana come 3 May, she may well prove a millstone round his neck on 8 November.

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Louie Woodall is a member of Labour International CLP. He tweets @LouieWoodall

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