Super PACs Warm to Cruz-Kasich Deal
It’s likely the surprise détente between Ted Cruz and John Kasich in three upcoming primaries was as much a cue to super PACs and outside groups as it was to voters, lending clear direction to anti-Donald Trump forces hustling to keep the celebrity billionaire from the GOP nomination.
In statements released almost concurrently late Sunday, Kasich’s and Cruz’s campaigns each hinted strongly that the agreement — in which Kasich would abandon campaigning in Indiana, while Cruz stands down in Oregon and New Mexico — is directed in large part toward the constellation of big-spending groups supporting them or seeking to undermine Trump.
Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe said he “[hoped] that allies of both campaigns would follow our lead.” Kasich’s chief strategist, John Weaver, echoed that his campaign “will focus our time and resources in New Mexico and Oregon … where Gov. Kasich is performing well.”
“We would expect independent third party groups to do the same and honor the commitments made by the Cruz and Kasich campaigns,” Weaver said.
Friendly super PACs have quickly shifted their resources as a result. Trusted Leadership PAC, a group aligned with Cruz, has “shelved advertising plans in New Mexico and Oregon” as of Monday, confirmed Kellyanne Conway, director of research and media outreach. The group does plan to continue attacking Kasich in Indiana, however.
"Trusted Leadership PAC has added a pro-Ted Cruz spot to the television buy in Indiana and will be keeping the Kasich BFF ad on air in the state as we attempt to win every possible vote for Senator Cruz,” Conway said in a statement.
For other groups, the non-aggression pact confirmed strategies already in place. The Club for Growth, which has reserved $1.5 million in advertising in Indiana, was airing an ad urging anti-Trump voters to back Cruz well before Cruz and Kasich reached their accord.
Doug Sachtleben, a spokesman for the group, said the Club “[feels] like Kasich is now essentially endorsing” that ad. “Our next focal point has been California and this only ramps up its importance,” Sachtleben said. “We may still look at other states, but Indiana and California are still the two key states we're focused on.”
Indeed, few groups seemed to have planned to spend extensively in Oregon and New Mexico, the two states Cruz will leave to Kasich. That includes Our Principles PAC, the banner anti-Trump outfit.
“Prior to the agreement, we had no plans in those states,” said Tim Miller, a spokesman for the group, “so nothing really impacted us on that front. Obviously, as we progress, if that changes we will take this into account.”
Although campaigns are prohibited from privately coordinating with their aligned super PACs or other outside groups, there is no such restriction on public nudges. If a campaign might be hesitant to broadcast its strategy under normal circumstances, however, Kasich and Cruz are operating under more desperate circumstances and with a shared goal, to force an open convention. Meanwhile, both campaigns are running low on cash and will likely need a productive assist from outside groups: Cruz’s war chest has dwindled to just $9 million, while Kasich has only $1.2 million in the bank.
Some Republican leaders have been pushing for cooperation of this kind for some time, forecasting that Kasich and Cruz, along with the groups backing them, were on track merely to undercut each other. "If they are both going at it aggressively until the very end, then I think Trump gets it on the first ballot," Mitt Romney said recently.
Still, the pact between Cruz and Kasich is not without steep political risk: In remarks Monday, Trump characterized the move as the “pathetic” maneuvering of two “desperate” candidates. “It shows how weak they are,” he said. “It shows how pathetic they are.”
Cruz emphasized that the pact "is about winning the votes of the Hoosier State, giving Indiana the opportunity to choose.” But Kasich seemed to counter that message, saying the decision merely concerned time and money: "I’m not going to spend resources in Indiana. [Cruz is] not going to spend resources in other places.”
“We're not telling voters who to vote for in IN, only where we are going to spend resources to ultimately defeat Hillary,” his strategist, Weaver, echoed on Twitter. “They get it.”