Trump In Driver's Seat After One Very Strange Week In Politics
The past seven days may well have been the most bizarre week of presidential politics in our lifetimes.
Let's take the events one at a time:
First, Donald Trump – real estate mogul, reality TV star, the ultimate "celebrity" candidate – appears to be on the verge of locking down the Republican presidential nomination. It's not a done deal by any means – Indiana on Tuesday and California on June 7 may have the final say – but it's getting pretty darned close to game, set and match.
As of Friday, Trump was sitting on 994 delegates – exactly 243 delegates short of the 1,237 he needs to nail the nomination on the first ballot. Cruz had 566; Kasich, a mere 153. With 572 delegates left on the table between now and the end of the primary season on June 7, neither Cruz nor Kasich can win on the first ballot.
This math brings us to the second event in our litany of the hard-to-believe.
Trump's competition, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, in a scheme aimed at trying to stop Trump short of the magic number of 1,237, cut a deal – Kasich wouldn't challenge Cruz in Indiana and Cruz would leave Kasich alone in the New Mexico and Oregon primaries.
That way, the reasoning of their campaign managers went, they might ("might" being the operative word) be able to bring Trump up short. Then, they would battle it out in subsequent ballots at what would be a rather raucous Republican National Convention at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.
Cracks in the Cruz-Kasich alliance appeared quickly. The next morning, Kasich was in Maryland telling reporters that, of course, he wanted people in the Hoosier State to vote for him. And, by the end of the week, Cruz's brand-spanking new running mate, Carly Fiorina, was telling the national news media Kasich should get out of the race.
It's possible this arrangement could last, but it's a long shot.
Not enough weirdness for you?
We're not done.
In in the middle of the week, Cruz, in Indiana, named Fiorina, the former corporate CEO and unsuccessful presidential candidate, as his vice presidential candidate.
Mack Mariani, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Xavier University, said the Fiorina move is all about the June 7 primary in California, where Fiorina lost a U.S. Senate race two years ago.
"I think it all comes down to California,'' Mariani said.
Announcing a running mate now "has several advantages and one big disadvantage," Mariani said.
The advantages, he said, are that Fiorinia "effectively doubles Cruz's footprint, allowing him to hold simultaneous events for media coverage in more than one place."
Secondly, Mariani said, it "steals a (news) cycle or two of media attention on Cruz-Fiorina" away from Trump. And, he said, it puts Kasich on the sidelines for a while.
Possibly, he said, the fact that Fiorina, who is from California, did win a GOP primary there two years ago can't hurt.
Ken Blackwell, the former Cincinnati mayor and Ohio Secretary of State and a conservative columnist, said Fiorina was a smart move by Cruz, one that Trump will find it difficult to counter.
"You have to remember, Fiorina ran a successful primary operation in California within the last two years,'' Blackwell told WVXU. "And Trump's negatives with women voters are off the charts."
OK, so the Fiorina choice was unusual – especially since there is plenty of video out there of her trashing her new running mate – but it's understandable.
We're not quite sure how much it is going to gain Cruz, but it is what it is.
Another bizarre moment got at least as much attention.
Early in the week, pre-Fiorina, Cruz was holding a campaign rally in the Hoosier Gym Community Center in Knightstown, Indiana, a rather holy shrine in the religion of Indiana basketball.
And, trying to recreate a scene from the movie "Hoosiers,'' he pointed to the hoop at one end of the court and called it a "basketball ring."
Not the kind of faux pas to make in basketball-mad Indiana.
Meanwhile, Trump was stumping around the state with the legendary coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, Bobby Knight, who was telling adoring crowds that, among other things, Trump will be one of the four greatest presidents of the United States and compared him to Harry Truman.
Calling a hoop a "basketball ring" or campaigning with Bobby Knight in Indiana. The latter is preferable in the Hoosier State.
The final piece of bizarreness: On Wednesday, in a speaking engagement at Stanford University, former House Speaker John Boehner of West Chester called Cruz "Lucifer in the flesh." And he said – well, he went sort of potty-mouthed. The former speaker compared the Texas senator to the male offspring of a female dog. A "miserable" off-spring of said dog. He said it in a less delicate way, of course.
Weird enough for you?
The only question that remains is if Trump can be stopped short of the 1,237 delegates he needs for a first-ballot victory. The national news media is full of stories about GOP establishment who have resigned themselves to the notion that Trump will be the presidential nominee.
And they are preparing themselves for what impact Trump might have down-ticket on the Republican side. If he were the nominee and loses big to Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, it could have a negative impact on Republican candidates down the ticket, from the U.S. Senate to the most local of local offices. And the Electoral College map does favor a Democratic presidential nominee, whoever that might be; and it has favored Democrats through the last few presidential election cycles.
But, for now, the focus of attention is on Tuesday's Indiana primary.
There are 57 delegates at stake. Thirty of them will go to the winner of the statewide vote. There are nine congressional districts with three delegates each. You get three delegates for each congressional district you win.
The latest polling average for Indiana from RealClearPolitics.com, which tracks political news and polling, has Trump with 39.3 percent, 33 percent for Cruz, and 19.3 percent for Kasich. Not an insurmountable lead, by any means.
Cruz is hoping for (recent) history to repeat itself Tuesday in the Hoosier State.
Polls had him trailing Trump a month ago in Wisconsin, but Cruz ended up winning Wisconsin by a wide margin, gathering in most of its delegates.
But Indiana is not Wisconsin.
Friday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence endorsed Cruz, which could pull some weight.
Still, as things stand now, Trump is the favorite.
Maybe it will go all the way to California, but a big win for Trump in Indiana could effectively mean the end of the road for Cruz and Kasich.
A loss by Trump, and Cruz, at least, lives on to fight another day.
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