Is Cruz-Fiorina 2016 eyeing a third-party run?

Ted Cruz chose Carly Fiorina as his running mate on Wednesday. This makes no sense. Unless...

Come on, Ted Cruz. These penny-ante gambits are beneath you.

First, you make a deal with John Kasich that you won't compete with each other in three states — you get Indiana to yourself, he gets Oregon and New Mexico. That's possibly savvy: Indiana is winner-take-all, so if Kasich's voters there actually did swing your way, the payoff could be huge. And then you could ride that momentum into Oregon and, well, nobody could blame you if the momentum from Indiana caused you to surge out West, could they?

Now you announce a running mate: Carly Fiorina. She's got the baggage of her disastrous tenure as CEO of Hewlett Packard, her failed Senate run in California, her poor showing in this year's presidential primaries — but she’s also famous for getting a really good dig in at Donald Trump after he insulted her face. Again, that's possibly savvy. Fiorina now becomes your feisty surrogate for attacking Trump, and maybe she wins over enough northern California Republicans to make you competitive across the state, particularly in the precincts where Kasich is hoping to thrive.

But let's be serious. If there were still a real chance that you could be the Republican nominee for president, you wouldn't be pulling these kinds of stunts.

Of course, you don't have much of a chance anymore. Donald Trump has over 950 pledged delegates. You've won 560 — almost 400 fewer. Trump could lose eight of the 10 remaining contests, winning only New Jersey and West Virginia (which everybody expects him to win), and lose them decisively, and still come within about 100 pledged delegates of the total needed to win the nomination. And that doesn't include those 54 formally unpledged delegates out of Pennsylvania, most of whom have promised to vote for the winner of their state and/or district.

And you, Senator Cruz? You could win all eight of those contests decisively — including Indiana and California, and including Oregon and New Mexico which you ceded to Kasich — and still wind up 300 pledged delegates behind Trump, and 400 shy of the number needed to clinch the nomination on the first ballot. In the best plausible scenario, where both gambits succeed, you'll have only two-thirds of the votes needed to prevail on the first ballot.

You're not going to prevail. And you know it.

Of course, nominally, you're projecting that only you can save the party from a terrible mistake, because Trump is unelectable. But you know that if the convention were willing to overlook the clear plurality winner, and electability were the primary criterion for their choice, there's no way the delegates would turn to you. So you're also making the argument that Trump is not a "real conservative" — as, indeed, he isn't by the standards that prevail among those who cherish the definitions of such contested terms. But if I recall correctly, in your view much of the party's leadership fails that test as well. So why would you be laboring to throw open the election to the delegates, a cross-section of the people who form the sinews of the GOP, to decide of their own free will who the nominee should be?

You're not Bernie Sanders, soldiering on without hope of victory with the aim of influencing the party platform and forcing the nominee to take your demands into consideration. If that were your object, you wouldn't be playing these silly games, making pacts and announcing running mates. You'd just be trying to win as many delegates as you can on a principled basis — and you'd be angling for a VP slot yourself, not naming one of your own.

Moreover, if you were still trying to woo enough delegates to win outright, why would you announce your VP choice now? At the convention, that very choice could be the prize that nets you precious delegates from the Marco Rubio or Kasich corner, as well as their admirers among the uncommitted.

So what are you up to?

Well, if Trump is really unacceptable to true conservatives, then presumably true conservatives shouldn't vote for him, even at the risk of electing Hillary Clinton. And if Trump is really an unprecedentedly dangerous person to elect president — because of his temperament, his blithe ignorance, or his manifest insincerity — then nobody should vote for him, regardless of their ideology.

And if either or both of those things are true, then neither should you. Or your supporters.

The Cruz campaign set out to redeem the Republican Party from its pusillanimous pessimists and appeasers, the very people who are now prepared to pussyfoot with Trump in the hopes of achieving some semblance of party unity. But what if they can't achieve unity that way at all — because if they try, you'll free Cruz-Fiorina 2016 from the party?

Of course, such an independent campaign would be extremely unlikely to achieve victory. It wouldn't even be on the ballot in most states — and if it got any meaningful number of votes, they'd come almost entirely out of Trump's hide. Hillary Clinton would win in a crushing landslide, sweeping not only the blue and purple states but potentially taking states like Texas and Georgia, where there are enough Democrats to win a three-way race, or even Utah, where Trump is deeply unpopular.

But instead of staying home and sulking, all your voters (and the handful of #NeverTrump voters) would at least turn out to vote — and they'd presumably vote for the GOP candidates for the House and Senate. Republican representatives and senators would feel freer than they otherwise might to proclaim their independence from Trump if he proved toxic in their district, and independents otherwise inclined to punish the GOP would see Clinton's inevitability as a reason to keep her in check by voting for the GOP for Congress.

You could almost call bolting the party a loyal thing to do, under the circumstances.

Or, if you prefer to see it as a threat, well, there's one way the delegates at the convention could prevent it from coming to pass. It just requires them to screw their courage to the sticking place. But you need to concentrate their minds, and make them realize that they don't only have to worry about Trump's revenge if they pass him over, but yours as well. And you'd need to do so in a way that doesn't advertise your potential disloyalty now, ahead of primaries where you still need to win Republican votes, and pledged delegates, to have even the slimmest hope of keeping Trump from getting the nod.

So what better way to make the situation clear than by showing them there's another ticket out there? And it's all ready to run.


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