Cruz's VP Gambit

Cruz's VP Gambit
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Facing what could be the last week of his presidential campaign, Ted Cruz threw another Hail Mary pass by naming Carly Fiorina as his running mate. 

The announcement in Indianapolis of a shared ticket comes as the Texas senator finds himself behind in the delegate count with no mathematical chance of clinching the Republican nomination without a contested convention. Cruz’s campaign could either be salvaged or reach its logical conclusion after next week’s primary in Indiana, which has become a last stand for the anti-Trump efforts. 

Donald Trump leads Cruz in public polling in the Hoosier State, and the senator’s unusually early vice presidential announcement signals a concern about his standing ahead of Tuesday’s contest. He also forged a last-ditch alliance in the beginning of the week with John Kasich, who agreed to leave the state and clear a path for Cruz to compete directly against Trump. But the GOP front-runner gained more momentum Tuesday night by sweeping five Northeastern states with large majorities and declaring himself the presumptive party nominee.

Cruz then took a page out of Trump’s playbook, teasing an “important announcement” Wednesday morning, aiming to shift attention away from the business mogul’s landslides and onto the next phase. 

“It’s unusual to make the announcement as early as we’re doing so. But this race, if anything, is unusual,” Cruz said before introducing Fiorina at an event in Indianapolis. “Where we are now, the mainstream, the New York media executives, and Washington lobbyists are all trying to tell the American people the race is over. But where we are right now, nobody is getting to 1,237 delegates. And Donald J. Trump is not getting to 1,237 delegates.” 

Cruz recalled an instance at a debate earlier this cycle when Fiorina fought back against Trump’s insult about her face, telling him that women across the country understood what he meant by the criticism. “All of us remember the grace, the class, the élan with which Carly responded,” said Cruz. Earlier in the cycle, he was careful not to criticize Trump, aiming to inherit his support if he faded. Now, Cruz’s entire presidential campaign is an effort to prevent Trump from getting the nomination. 

Fiorina dropped out of the race in February and endorsed Cruz in March, the day after the Michigan primary, which Trump won. She has since been an active surrogate for him on the trail and has been helping the campaign with delegate outreach. Fiorina’s rivals respected her when she was in the race, and she carved out a niche for herself by going on the attack against Hillary Clinton during the debates. On Wednesday, she worked to soften Cruz’s image and potentially his high unfavorable ratings, particularly by speaking of how he dotes on his young daughters. 

The move could also put pressure on Trump to select a running mate. The front-runner said Tuesday night that he wasn't thinking about that process yet. He went on to cause controversy by accusing Clinton of playing the “woman card” and said she wouldn't get more than 5 percent of the vote if she were a man. Republicans have been concerned about Trump's high negative ratings among women voters, especially with the prospect of challenging the person who could be the first woman president.

Fiorina will likely play a role in the final primary in California, where she ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2010. Cruz has already begun to campaign there and hopes a win in Indiana could propel him to compete for the 172 delegates in the Golden State’s closed primary.

Wednesday’s announcement is certainly a gambit for Cruz, who is seen by Trump and colleagues on Capitol Hill as politically conniving. Trump seized on the alliance Cruz formed with Kasich earlier this week to paint his rival as a Washington insider who cuts deals with other politicians behind the scenes when it’s expedient. Cruz’s rocky relationships with many in his party have made it difficult for him to emerge as the alternative to Trump. The high-profile Republicans who endorsed him have done so only reluctantly. 

Fiorina touched upon this vulnerability by saying she was proud of the enemies Cruz had made because it signaled he is not a friend to Washington politicians. Fiorina, a businesswoman, also ran as an outsider in a year that was particularly kind to political neophytes. 

“This is a fight for the soul of our party and the future of our nation,” she said Wednesday in Indianapolis. 

Trump tweeted a clip from an earlier CNN interview in which Fiorina described Cruz as a politician who will say anything to get elected. Trump will likely continue that line of attack during campaign stops in Indiana this week. The announcement could also fuel his rage-against-the-system message.

Beyond inviting criticism from Trump and others, Cruz’s announcement of a vice presidential candidate before clinching the nomination comes with risky historical precedent. When Ronald Reagan named Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker as his running mate ahead of a contested convention in 1976, the Chicago Tribune described the move as a “last-minute desperation gamble.”

The move, of course, backfired, and Gerald Ford was eventually nominated, only to lose the election that year to Jimmy Carter.

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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