In what will either go down in history as a brilliant strategy shift or an embarrassing, losing gambit, GOP opponents John Kasich and Ted Cruz have announced they are joining forces to take down their common rival, Donald Trump.
Trump's response was fast and "on brand." In a tweet he wrote that it was desperation for the two to "collude in order to keep me from getting the Republican nomination."
For months pundits and politicians have speculated that there would be backroom dealings aimed at denying Trump a first-ballot win and a brokered Republican Convention this summer. That speculation is over; there is going to be a public brawl. You thought politics couldn't get more interesting, nasty or sink any lower.
This is like two parents divorcing and begging the kids to pick favorites. It's public, it's ugly, it's confusing -- and it's going to blow up in Kasich's, Cruz's and the GOP's face.
What on earth is the Republican Party doing?
Once again, on all things strategy, Trump is 100% correct. Is this an act of too-late desperation? Yup. Is it collusion? Textbook. And how are Cruz and Kasich joining forces? "Game of Thrones" style: They are trading states to consolidate delegates, in hope of beating their common enemy, Trump.
Kasich is telling his voters to back Cruz in Indiana, and likewise, Cruz will not compete against Kasich in Oregon and New Mexico.
There are three research-backed reasons why this won't work:
1. Research proves people like to back a winner.
By joining forces, Cruz and Kasich aren't becoming the underdogs conservatives root for, they're highlighting the fact that Trump is the inevitable nominee. That will throw more independents into his camp and push the undecideds. Being the perceived winner is a huge advantage. Example? On Kickstarter, your odds of succeeding
are 10 times higher once you reach about half your funding goal. Trump is already there with 845 delegates of the 1,237 that he needs.
2. It's a turn-off to supporters because of cognitive bias.
That is, we seek out information that we agree with. You'll spend 36% more time reading an article if you agree with it. Our brains actively try to find disagreement
with things that we don't like.
If you like Kasich, you will find reason to dislike Cruz. And vice versa.
If I'm a Kasich fan I won't suddenly feel good voting for Cruz because my mind is made up: I have already decided Kasich is the best candidate. It will take a rallying of uncontrollable variables to make sure that voters in the states the two candidates are divvying up will stick to the plan, all biases aside.
3. It's too complicated. Research shows
that when we are faced with too many choices or instructions that aren't clear, we don't change behavior. And it's not clear what's going on. Seasoned political commentators hammer Trump for his lack of substance, but the irony is it's his simplicity that appeals to many.
There's nothing simple about this Kasich-Cruz alliance. It translates to voters like this:
"So let me get this straight, if I'm a Kasich supporter and if I live in Indiana, I'm supposed to vote for Cruz (who I don't like), in the hopes that we defeat Trump and in the hopes that Kasich will then defeat Cruz (who I just voted for) in the primary? Huh? I don't think so, and now I am starting to lose interest."
Plus, when it's time to vote, voters may wonder: "Is everyone else really going to do it?" "Will this hurt [Kasich or Cruz's] chances in the convention?"
Moreover, unless Cruz and Kasich are hammering this on the airways at every single stop, it's not going to trickle down to the masses.
By all appearances they are not instructing voters to do anything. Kasich was campaigning in Pennsylvania this morning and, from what I watched, he was using the national air time coverage in a diner to talk about leg pressing 325 pounds, not pushing this Cruz-Kasich alliance. Heck, as he shook hands with diners, he didn't seem to be actually asking people to vote for him. He might want to start doing that.
Remember, this is a primary and people are pretty focused on whom they like. If this were a national campaign strategy to unite Republicans against the Democrats, voters would likely be more willing to vote for people they don't like based on their party ties.
Instead, this GOP "Anyone-but-Trump" strategy will hand the election to Hillary Clinton, as it games the system, demonizes Trump, antagonizes his supporters--and fractures the party even further.
Apparently the GOP does not want to face the reality that it has become so out of touch on social policies that it can't attract moderates. Much of the GOP's rhetoric scares people; it doesn't even try to attract Democrats and can't attract independents. Trump is succeeding at all of the above because he is uniting people on one simple belief: politicians are a phony, stuck up lot.
The irony is this, and I've been saying it for months:
Trump is the GOP's only shot at the White House, and by "joining forces" against him because he's not a "true" conservative (what's that again?), they have just caused their own party to implode.