GOP rivals to coordinate against Trump

Both campaigns said they expected allies and third-party groups to follow their lead.

Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio have agreed to coordinate in future primary contests in a last-ditch effort to deny Donald Trump the Republican presidential nomination, with each candidate standing aside in certain states amid growing concerns that Trump cannot otherwise be stopped.

In a statement late Sunday night, Cruz’s campaign manager, Jeff Roe, said the campaign would “focus its time and resources in Indiana and in turn clear the path for Governor Kasich to compete in Oregon and New Mexico.”

Minutes after Roe’s statement, the Kasich campaign put out a similar message. The Ohio governor’s chief strategist, John Weaver, said his campaign would shift its resources to states in the West and “give the Cruz campaign a clear path in Indiana.”

Both campaigns said they expected allies and third-party groups to follow their lead.

The arrangement is a striking departure for Cruz, who has in the past rebuffed calls from some Republican leaders — including members of the Kasich campaign and Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee — to divvy up states in an effort to complicate Trump’s path.

The move also signals a major shift in tone from the Cruz campaign toward Kasich, whom Cruz aides have long cast as a “spoiler” in the race. Cruz has openly questioned whether Kasich was auditioning to be Trump’s vice president.

But Indiana, which votes May 3, is seen as critical to Cruz’s chances of keeping Trump safely beneath the delegate count required for the nomination. In a signal of Indiana’s importance, Cruz has held several events in the state in recent days, giving relatively little attention to the five states that vote Tuesday, when he is expected to lose more delegates to Trump.

Kasich’s team had hoped to coordinate in this manner much sooner. Last month, at a debate in Miami, Weaver broached the possibility with Roe of splitting the remaining states in an effort to minimize Trump’s delegate haul. Cruz’s team rejected the overture, in part because it would have meant ceding the spotlight in high-profile contests, such as New York, in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states.

What changed between the talks last month and now, according to Cruz’s advisers, is that there are few states left on the calendar and Cruz urgently must stop Trump in Indiana.

Trump’s landslide in New York last week and an expected win Tuesday in a handful of states near the Eastern Seaboard has demoralized those Republicans hoping to halt his candidacy. They fear that if he wins Indiana after his run of recent success, the appetite and financing to block him in the remaining states will dissipate. Indiana is also one of the few remaining states before California votes on June 7 where there is much indecision. The intervening states either clearly favor Trump or Cruz or they will scatter their delegates through some proportional approach.

Public polling in Indiana shows Cruz trailing Trump in part because Kasich is threatening to win a significant number of votes, particularly in the area in and around Indianapolis, which is filled with more affluent Republicans. Indiana awards delegates based on congressional district results and the overall winner, and five of the state’s nine districts include or immediately border the county that is home to Indianapolis.

A Fox News survey released last week showed Trump taking 41 percent of the vote while Cruz received 33 percent and Kasich 16 percent. But without Kasich in the race, Trump’s lead narrowed to 2 points.

The timing was crucial, too. Cruz now will have more than a week of campaigning in Indiana unimpeded by Kasich. And with Oregon starting its early voting this week, the two camps had to come to an agreement. At this late stage, it is unclear how effective the effort might be at swaying voters, especially if the campaigns do not give more explicit instructions. Unlike a similar gambit last month, when Sen. Marco Rubio urged supporters in Ohio to vote for Kasich to slow Trump, there was no such request in the two statements on Sunday.

Weaver said the campaign was “very comfortable with our delegate position in Indiana already,” a reference to success in lining up individual delegates from the state to the national convention. (These delegate will be bound to the results of next month’s primary on the first convention ballot but will be free agents should there be subsequent ballots.) As for why Cruz’s campaign showed a willingness to deal now, Kasich’s advisers noted that the senator was in a stronger position when they rejected the overture that took place over a month ago.

As of late Sunday, a website listing scheduled events for the Kasich campaign no longer included two rallies in Indiana that had been planned for Tuesday.

The abrupt change placed some campaign allies in an awkward spot. Trusted Leadership PAC, a super PAC supporting Cruz, announced Friday that it planned to spend $1.6 million in Indiana, unveiling an attack ad against Kasich. “He just said Republicans have no ideas,” the ad says of Kasich. “He’s right insofar as we have no idea why he is still running.”

Roe said the campaign planned to “compete vigorously to win” in any other states not mentioned in the statement. But Cruz’s advisers say he was willing to punt on Oregon and New Mexico, which together account for 52 delegates, because the campaign needed to offer states with approximately the same number of delegates as Indiana’s 57. And Oregon and New Mexico are proportional states, so they are not likely to hand either candidate a significant trove of delegates.

An internal Cruz campaign memo last month was bullish on New Mexico, where the campaign said it expected to earn a majority of delegates.

For Kasich, who still trails Rubio in delegates, the agreement allows them a better chance at winning a handful more delegates going into the convention in proportional states where Cruz will now not be much of a factor.

Ceding these delegates to Kasich is of little concern to Cruz now because the senator can no longer clinch the nomination before Cleveland. He is focused entirely on stopping Trump from reaching 1,237 delegates by the end of voting in June, so whether he or Kasich were the ones sharing the delegates with the front-runner in New Mexico and Oregon mattered little.

For Trump, who has argued repeatedly in recent days that Republican leaders are conspiring to stop him as part of a “rigged” nominating system, the new alliance against him could provide further evidence for his argument to his grass-roots supporters.

Late Sunday night, a Trump associate, Dan Scavino, wrote on Twitter that the agreement was merely “two losing politicians — mathematically eliminated from receiving the nomination — trying something NEW!”

“They will FAIL!” he posted.

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