My ritual declarations of neutrality are less and less persuasive to more and more people diving into the scrum that is the GOP presidential nomination process. But it is still the case that my radio show remains open to all three of the GOP candidates still in the field, and all can continue to expect fair but pointed questions, increasingly focused on their electability.
I’ve got a near perfect record of calling “win, place, show” in the states I have chosen to do so — especially the first three of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — and I think Ted Cruz will romp in Utah on Tuesday buoyed by Mitt Romney’s vote and backing there, and that Donald Trump probably can hang on to a lead in Arizona as so many early votes were cast for Marco Rubio, which are now in essence “dead votes.” With a split on Tuesday, the race turns toward Wisconsin, which is winner-take-all, and then, with some less significant stops along the way, on to California.
Team Trump seems incapable of changing tactics but instead resorts to Scotty tactics from “Star Trek”: “More power!” Or is it “More cowbell” from Christopher Walken on “Saturday Night Live?”
Either way, Donald and company are going to try and steamroll through every obstacle without derailing. Think of Boris the Blade from the movie “Snatch.” Sen. Cruz is Cousin Avi, and Gov. John Kasich is Mickey. All want the giant diamond that is the nomination. All are getting beat up along the way in the quest for the prize. Guy Ritchie could not have asked for a better script than campaign ’16 has provided.
Trump’s bulldozer approach might work, but the odds against it are rising. Every institutional force in the GOP is now calculating that a Trump nomination will cost the party the Senate majority and maybe the House and not a few state legislatures thrown in, whereas a Cruz-Tom Cotton, Cruz-Nikki Haley, Cruz-Rubio, or Cruz-Carly Fiorina ticket puts new demographics of age and ethnicity into play against the dreadful candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton could end up on either a Cruz or a Trump ticket as an acknowledgment of the seriousness of the war we face and the metastasizing threats from the Islamic State and Iran that grow daily. So too could other combat vets, such as Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa or Dan Sullivan of Alaska.
Cruz’s adding of a former rival such as Sen. Rubio or businesswoman Carly Fiorina would bring in to the ticket a battle-tested veteran who knows what it takes this particular year and has the stomach for the brawl. Any of those four tickets could win in the fall.
Cruz could also go for a Cheney-like surprise and designate Mitt Romney as his running mate — for one term and one term only, coupled with a declaration of intention to have Romney tackle entitlement reform and bureaucratic brush clearing with Romney’s former running mate, House Speaker Paul Ryan, while Cruz concentrates on the military rebuild and the Supreme Court vacancy and lower court selections as well as the much needed tax overhaul. With Romney certain to exit from the ticket in 2020, Cruz-Romney would keep every would-be vice president in the House, Senate and the state houses in line and cooperating through July 2020.
Trump’s challenge is to telegraph stability, and this is a big lift after the chaos of the past month. Cotton works for him in accomplishing that mission, as would Scott Walker or another big state governor. As would John Kasich. Not Rick Scott. Not Newt or any of the other “outsiders.” Not another “colorful” personality for what is already the most unpredictable of races of modern times.
Trump’s sky-high negatives demand a winsome running mate, and probably a pre-election cabinet build-out unprecedented in modern times. Trump has to reassure the world beyond his passionate base that he can be trusted with the keys to the Oval Office. He would be well served to list his first four Supreme Court picks and sign in blood the commitment to follow that list. Underestimating the #NeverTrump movement is a death knell to his candidacy, if not now, then in the fall. Trump really needs to name his secretary of defense and secretary of state soon if only to reassure the millions of GOP voters poised to bolt. (No, it isn’t against the law as the old saw goes.)
Either Cruz or Trump could win a general election against Hillary Clinton, though Cruz’s path is easier given Trump’s sky-high negatives. John Kasich at the top of the ticket with Cruz as a running mate is the best bet to beat Clinton, and also the least likely of the scenarios.
The sort of negotiating that benefits the party (and which hides the eventual ticket from the Clinton-orchestrated scorched earth assault as long as possible) is best conducted in the run-up to an open convention, with doubt in the mix if no one has 1,237 committed delegates. A Utah win for Cruz advances that scenario. An Arizona upset for Cruz guarantees it. And Wisconsin, Oregon and California will determine who enters the convention with momentum and the love of the delegates uncommitted by law or collapse of their previous candidate.
This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com.