Is there any way for Ted Cruz or John Kasich to wrest the Republican nomination from Donald Trump? With every tick of the clock, it looks less likely. The chances differ for the two candidates. Kasich needs a miracle. Cruz may possibly succeed with a new emphasis.
Kasich's claim boils down to this: He's a Midwestern moderate who may not perform well in deep-red states such as Texas and Utah but will find his natural constituency in the Northeast and West Coast states coming up. His electoral performance and his campaign's incompetence suggest otherwise.
If Kasich is the regional/purple-state candidate, why did he come third in Michigan, fifth in Minnesota, fourth in Florida, third in Missouri, fourth in Virginia, third in Illinois and eighth in Iowa? Despite his Ohio win, Kasich has amassed fewer delegates than Rubio even today. Why, if his gambit is to win with moderates, did his campaign fail to get on the ballot in Pennsylvania (the challenge was withdrawn when Rubio dropped out) and even to field a full slate of delegates of Maryland?
Kasich's behavior fits more consistently with a plan to be chosen as Trump's running mate than with a real strategy to win. When Rubio urged his supporters to vote for Kasich in Ohio (the better to deny Trump delegates), Kasich pointedly declined to return the favor. When Trump dropped out of the final debate, Kasich withdrew as well. And then there was his inexplicable decision to spend three quarters of a million dollars in Utah — a state that awards all of its delegates to the candidate who gets 50 percent plus one — despite polls showing Cruz with a commanding lead. (Cruz did win 69 percent.)
Kasich could be a consensus candidate if there were any evidence that voters outside of Ohio liked him. As of now, there isn't. His path is a yellow brick road to Oz. Someone still needs to tell him it's not a real place.
Ted Cruz is also under water in many ways. The coming lull in primaries favors Trump, as the ratings-mad and Democrat-leaning media will continue to keep the reality star front and center, denying Cruz oxygen. Also, the coming primaries are mostly in blue and purple states: New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, California and a few more. There are some exceptions, but most of the voters Ted Cruz must appeal to in the coming six weeks are not just uninspired by him; they are repelled. The country-music, G0D, guns and no-amnesty shtick that worked moderately well in the South (though not according to plan, as Trump ran away with most of the voters Cruz was angling for) is like kryptonite on the coasts.
It is too much to expect that Cruz can win a majority of the delegates at this point. Both math and geography are against him. He would need to win 85 percent of the remaining delegates (Trump needs 55 percent). But if Sen. Cruz can blunt Trump's momentum, especially toward the end, delegates would be freed to consider the convention an open contest.
There is one message that Cruz can emphasize from here on out that would not conflict with his established identity but might rally voters not otherwise inclined toward him — political decency. At every opportunity, he must stress that Trump's virtually naked appeal to racial hatred (his footsie with the KKK being exhibit A), his encouragement of mob violence, his tolerance for alleged violence against a woman by his campaign manager and his frightening admiration for dictators of all stripes make him utterly unfit to be the standard bearer for the party of Abraham Lincoln. Though Cruz has made his name disparaging the Republican Party, it now falls to him to defend its honor and that of the conservative movement against nativism, vulgarity, ignorance and authoritarianism.
He must stress (as he has done in one or two debates) that being faithful to the Constitution doesn't just mean appointing worthy justices to the Supreme Court — as crucial as that is. It also means respecting constitutional limits on government power, especially executive power. And he must emphasize that in a world made far more dangerous by the intentional weakening of the United States under Barack Obama, an erratic, ignorant and unstable commander in chief represents an unacceptable danger to the nation and the world.
The time for Cruz to be the alternate Trump is over. If there is any chance for him, it will be as the clarion, bold anti-Trump.