When Texas Sen. Ted Cruz found Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the latter was finishing a bowl of Skyline Chili 5-Way delivered to his suite at Quicken Loans Arena by an Ohio delegate who had wanted the Buckeye State governor to stay loose and relaxed.
“Ted, Ted, come in. See what you missed when you skipped Ohio? Best damn chili in the country. I didn’t have a prayer in New York, but I knew I’d eat my way for free through the boroughs. Isn’t campaign food the best? Our wives can’t say a thing …”
John Weaver, the ubiquitous presence at Kasich’s right arm through the campaign, put his hand on the ebullient governor’s shoulder. Kasich nodded and then slowed down.
“So Ted, sit down. Mind if John stays? You can bring in Jeff if you want. We can start…”
“Governor, thanks,” said Cruz, still standing as were the other two men. “But I don’t need Jeff. I just wanted to give an answer to your kind offer of an hour ago. You see, I went and saw Donald…”
“I heard that. I heard that,” Kasich interrupted. “Almost sent the troopers to save you. Home court advantage having these guys,” Kasich nodded toward the door, where a couple of Ohio’s finest had made way for the Texas senator.
“It went fine. In fact, we came to an agreement.” Cruz let those words dangle.
Kasich straightened up from his customary semi-slouch. “Now why would you do that without talking to me or at least giving me the courtesy of a ‘no’ —” Kasich was revving up and Cruz interrupted, holding up both hands to stop a statement that might make his plan crumble, and forcing an interruption.
“What we agreed to, governor, doesn’t preclude our agreement,” Cruz said.
Instantly Kasich went into listening mode as his shoulders dropped back to their normal relaxed position. All three men were still standing and barely a minute had gone by.
“I’ll accept your offer to run second on a Kasich-Cruz ticket, but only if we agree to two things in addition to what you laid out,” Cruz began.
“Two things in addition to your being the veep, the 2024 nominee, getting to name the SCOTUS picks and having all the other court picks for eight years?” Kasich tried to sound incredulous, but he had figured a counteroffer would be coming. “What more do you want? You know that the Reagan-Ford talks in 1980 broke down on the term ‘co-presidency?’ And with reason. There can’t be co-presidents.”
“Indeed they did, and I agree on that. Not in the Constitution to begin with. No, your offer is fine the way it is, provided you agree to the following,” Cruz responded.
“We will have a vote here in about 20 minutes,” the Texas senator continued. “I believe it will see me take the lead. Probably with a bit more or less than 900 votes,” Weaver nodded. His calculations as well. Kasich saw that nod and registered his own.
“Well then, as leader of the convention, I will propose a debate later tonight to occur tomorrow night at 8 or 9, with a fifth ballot to follow immediately on its conclusion. I hope you will join me at that announcement. If I lose support from my mark tonight after the debate on the fifth ballot, I’ll agree to your deal. No changes up or down. It was a fair offer. But, big ‘but’ coming. But, if I gain support on the ballot after the debate, you agree to be my veep as soon as the votes are tallied, and we end this thing with speeches and a party on Friday. Debates shaped the whole race. It is your home turf. You are good at them. I am good at them. And, by the way, Donald agreed.”
Cruz stopped. He looked at the Ohio governor with a smile and then at Weaver with a smile.
“A good way to put the whole thing back on the rails, John wouldn’t you say? Massive audience? We can all raise some dough by using our websites and the size of the viewing audience. Say 50 million, maybe more? Make some history, pay off debt. And this is what got Donald: ‘May the best man win.’ He thinks he can beat us both and persuade the delegates who will vote as soon as we wrap. High stakes. High drama.”
Kasich was thinking, then moved as he had a thousand times as governor and committee chairman to define and seal the deal. “So if you lose even one vote for, ballot four to five, you agree to be my veep right then? If you go up even one vote, I agree to be your vice president? Right then and there?”
“Total votes, John. If my total goes down — not if one delegate changes his or her mind,” countered the Supreme Court litigator, tying off a potential loose end. “That’s it. I didn’t tell Donald that part, by the way,” Cruz replied. “He offered me the vice presidency as well, you should know. I must say it is a bit amusing to be offered the vice presidency by two different people who I am about to be leading.”
“Well there’s a lot about politics that is amusing, Ted. A lot. Sometimes I just start to laugh thinking about the absurdity of this campaign, and then I think we really can’t let Hillary have the Oval. Sheesh. This world and Hillary.”
Kasich paused and looked at Weaver, shaking his head, “You called it. Tell you what Ted, John here called your play. Like he was a defensive coordinator up in the box on the 50. Sitting here waiting for you to get out of the meeting with Trump, Weaver says ‘Cruz will want a debate. It is what he does best.’ Didn’t you, John?”
Weaver nodded again and Cruz smiled again. “That’s why we pay them the big bucks,” Cruz responded.
“What’s his advice, then?” Cruz continued.
Kasich smiled his Kasich grin. “Take it! Of course. I’m in third place! Of course we take it. Good fun. And I will kick your butt in Quicken. Did you see LeBron own Curry here last month? Same thing this time. You are in my house,” he said, laughing at the absurdity of the analogy. The Cavaliers had swept the Warriors with a broom in four in June, showing that 2015’s NBA title was bogus, a fluke resulting from injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. But flukes happen. All of the 2016 campaign seemed to many to be a series of flukes.
“Sure, why not,” concluded Ohio’s governor. “High stakes poker. Weaver here said 30 minutes ago we invite Todd, Tapper, Dickerson and of course Megyn Kelly to share the stage, guaranteeing four of five nets cover us wall to wall counting down. I said, let’s invite George too. I’m not afraid of questions from George.”
“I was going to suggest Hewitt solo to sweeten the pot for you, Ohio guy and all, but I like that. Let’s leave details to John, Jeff and Corey. Maybe we have Hewitt moderate and those five ask questions…”
“Corey? He was in the room? Not Manafort?” said Kaisch, his eyebrows up but smiling. “Not again. That’s four switches,” said a still-amused Kasich.
“Corey as of this hour. Why don’t Jeff, John and Corey call Ailes, Lack, Zucker and the rest and work this out. You and I can appear as soon as the balloting is done and announce our teams are meeting to arrange a debate and that Donald has agreed. Best we not bring Donald along, I think.”
“Good. Good. Let’s just walk into the press center together in about 30 minutes. You go first on stage as you will be ahead. I’ll draft behind you. Keep it short, and I’ll mirror you. Go long, and I go long. We have to start trusting each other as we are going to be working together, one way or the other, for eight weeks or eight years. We both say our piece and then see you at 8 p.m. tomorrow night on stage. You go up in delegates afterwards, then I raise your hand. You go down on ballot five, you raise mine. Going to be fun.”
“Deal,” said Cruz, extending his hand which Kasich took and shook. The ticket looked like it had been formed, though the order would be up to the delegates on the fifth ballot, even as they would not know that, at least not officially. Who knew who would leak what?
Weaver’s iPhone buzzed and he glanced at it, “Well, gentlemen, you might want to find a place to watch television at 11:00. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are headed to a studio together. They asked for a set with three chairs.”
This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com.