Cruz-Kasich Coalition Could Be the Instrument of Their Final Undoing

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A girl holds a campaign sign in support for Republican presidential candidate Ohio Governor John Kasich during a town hall meeting in Rockville, Maryland on April 25, 2016.
A girl holds a campaign sign in support for Republican presidential candidate Ohio Governor John Kasich during a town hall meeting in Rockville, Maryland on April 25, 2016. Credit: Yuri Gripas / AFP

It was Ecclesiastes who first said that two are better than one, but that probably doesn’t apply to those who happen to be drowning. The new deal between Ted Cruz and John Kasich could have similarly fatal results. It reflects the two candidates’ understanding that Donald Trump is likely to sweep the five-state primaries on Tuesday and their consequent preparations for a final do-or-die Armageddon in Indiana next week - but the Cruz-Kasich coalition could also be the instrument of their final undoing.

Trump has described the new coalition of convenience an act of desperation, and he’s right. He’s also held it up as a prime example of the GOP establishment’s “collusion” aimed at preventing him from becoming the party’s presidential candidate, and he’s pretty accurate about that aspect as well. Trump knows that many Republican voters in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island hate the bigwigs and believe in conspiracies, and may thus abhor an unholy alliance between Cruz the uber-conservative and Kasich the relative moderate. He’s trying to capitalize on the expected disgruntlement in the hopes of producing an extra oomph that could render Cruz and Kasich dead in the water. Trump’s unequivocal triumph in New York last week apparently convinced the two losing gentlemen that they’re not going to do much better among the Empire State’s neighbors. Though they are different in size, character and demographics, the five north-eastern states are likely to follow the same voting patterns as their much more renowned neighbor. That’s the underlying justification for the popular “Acela primaries” moniker attached to Tuesday’s vote, named for the so-called “express” train that runs through them all.

The deal, which sees Kasich ceasing his Indiana campaign in exchange for Cruz desisting from his drive in Oregon and New Mexico, is a last-ditch effort to stop Trump from collecting the 1237 delegates that would ensure his nomination at the GOP convention in August. The underlying and possibly ungrounded assumption is that the 19 percent of Indiana voters who currently support Kasich in the polls would move en masse to Cruz and make up for Trump’s current 10 percent advantage. The strategy could collapse, of course, if Trump wins big on Tuesday, if his unstoppable momentum consequently gains pace and if Kasich’s supporters reach the conclusion that voting for Cruz is an ideological bridge too far.

On the Democratic side, the identity of Tuesday’s victor is also known in advance, though with a smidgen less certainty. In some states, with the notable exception of Maryland, one can envisage a stunning last minute Sanders upset, at least in theory, if everything goes his way. That does not seem to include Pennsylvania, hitherto the jewel in Sanders’ eye, where Clinton’s once overwhelming lead has been whittled down to 10 percent but where it has stubbornly remained ever since.

The outcome of the primaries in New York has cast an even darker shadow on Sanders than on Cruz or Kasich. Clinton’s 16-point margin of victory, which exceeded projections, took much of the wind out of the Vermont senator’s sails. He was more subdued during his numerous television interviews over the weekend, as befits a candidate who may no longer believe in his own chances. Sanders is still California Dreamin’, of course, but so is anyone else who grew up listening to the Mamas and the Papas.

If it was up to whites only - as many of them would indeed have it - Sanders might have been right up there now with Trump at the top; discontent with the establishment, ironically, seems to be strongest in the constituency to which it ostensibly belongs. This is Sanders’ fatal flaw: his inability to breach Clinton’s protective shield among minorities, in general, and African Americans, in particular. Sanders is likely to get walloped in Maryland, because it hosts the largest proportion of African Americans outside the Deep South. His chances of taking California are minimal, among other reasons, because it is the first state in the Union in which whites are now in the minority.

Jewish Americans are also likely to play a prominent role in Tuesday’s vote: They comprise 2.3 percent of the population in Pennsylvania, 3.3 percent in Connecticut and four percent in Maryland. In terms of voter participation, their real weight is probably double that and more. Based on previous though largely anecdotal evidence, one can assume that Jews will give Clinton somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of their vote. The much smaller group that will prefer GOP candidates will likely split more or less evenly between Kasich and Trump, with Cruz getting a smattering of support from Orthodox groups in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

The Jews are likely to play a truly pivotal role - and find themselves on the opposite side of an African American bloc - in the Maryland face-off for the Democrats’ Senate nomination between Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards. The sometimes-stormy clash, which has stoked racial and gender-based divisions between Van Hollen the white male and Edwards the black woman also has an Israeli storyline. Even though he’s been endorsed by J Street, other Israel-supporters including AIPAC view Van Hollen as being staunchly pro-Israel, while Edwards’ credentials, by normal Washington D.C. standards, are in doubt at best.

The Democratic contest in Pennsylvania is also generating national interest, mainly because the current GOP Senator Pat Toomey is considered vulnerable in November. U.S. media depicted the race on Monday as a test of influence and popularity for President Obama, following his endorsement of environmental expert Katey McGinty in her battle against 2010 losing candidate Joe Sestak. If McGinty beats Sestak despite his months-long lead in the polls, Obama will become a persona who is very grata for other Democratic contenders around the country, contrary to 2012, when most of them kept their distance from the president as if he was the plague.