Anti-Trump Forces Favoring Cruz Over Kasich

Anti-Trump Forces Favoring Cruz Over Kasich
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By winning his home state of Ohio and all its 66 delegates earlier this week, John Kasich helped keep hope alive for the anti-Donald Trump forces in the GOP. But it's not as though the party is coalescing around the governor.

With Kasich's path to the nomination literally impossible via the primaries—even winning 100 percent of the remaining delegates would not bring his total to the needed 1,237—some in the party are choking back their distaste and backing Ted Cruz. Though the Texas senator also has an uphill, but not undoable, climb to the nomination, he is viewed by some in the party as the last, best vehicle to prevent Trump from garnering the necessary delegates.

This dynamic came into its clearest focus yet when South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham—who last month joked about murdering Cruz on the Senate floor—announced on Thursday that he is backing his upper chamber colleague and hosting a fundraiser for him in Washington during the AIPAC conference next week.

"He's certainly not my preference, but he's a reliable Republican, conservative, which I've had many differences with," Graham told CNN. Graham said Kasich is the most electable general election candidate, but "I just don't see how John gets through the primary. This is an outsider year, and he is an insider."

Graham's endorsement marked a stunning development in the race, even by this presidential cycle's standards, and an acknowledgement that options for preventing a Trump nomination are nearly on life support. Earlier this year, Graham likened choosing between Trump and Cruz to deciding whether to be shot or poisoned. Either option, he said, leaves you dead.

The South Carolina senator has now picked his poison. Aside from his personal dislike for Cruz, Graham has vehemently disagreed with his Senate colleague on foreign policy—a subject that played a key role in the hawkish Graham's decision to run for president himself. Last month, Graham said Cruz is "worse" than President Obama on foreign affairs. He has also publically criticized Cruz for being too conservative on abortion rights by not allowing exceptions, and has called him an "opportunist."

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who made a splash in the GOP presidential race by endorsing Marco Rubio right before the state's primary last month, also said she would support Cruz now that her first choice has left the race. Haley has been a vocal opponent of Trump's rhetoric and approach. “My hope and my prayer is that Senator Cruz can pull through this and that he can push through and really get to where he needs to go,” Haley told reporters at her state capitol.

Rubio, who had been most critical of Cruz during this election cycle, particularly on national security, told Minnesota supporters on Wednesday that the Texas senator is the "only conservative left in the race."

For his part, Cruz now views Kasich as a menace, after having paid him little mind this entire cycle. "The longer Kasich stays in the race, the more it benefits Donald Trump," he said. Cruz believes he can overcome the real estate tycoon in a one-on-one contest, or at least prevent him from winning the requisite delegates, and is eyeing a victory in the caucus state of Utah next Tuesday.

Cruz's road, however, is also narrowing. After significant wins last Tuesday, Trump has 673 delegates to Cruz's 411. Trump appears well positioned in the winner-take-all contest of Arizona next Tuesday, where 58 delegates are at stake. Wisconsin will host another highly competitive winner-take-all primary on April 5 with 42 delegates up for grabs. In an apparent slight to Cruz, Kasich is planning campaign events in Utah and is running a television ad there.

Despite the odds stacked against him, Kasich insists he’s undeterred – and well positioned to win at a contested convention that will be held in his home state. "Neither of those guys can win a general election, so maybe they're spoiling it for the Republican Party and for the conservative movement," he said at a campaign stop at Villanova University in Philadelphia on Wednesday. Pennsylvania will host a winner-take-most contest on April 26, and Kasich hopes his Rust Belt sensibilities will translate well there.

Meanwhile, a group of conservative activists and operatives met in Washington on Thursday to plot a way to prevent Trump from securing the nomination. The anti-Trump movement has intensified, but still remains fractured, divided over coalescing around Cruz or aiming for a contested convention—or even a third party bid.

"We call for a unity ticket that unites the Republican Party," wrote Erick Erikson, who participated in the meeting. "We intend to keep our options open as to other avenues to oppose Donald Trump.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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