Presidential races

‘Never Trump’ groups collide with Kasich, Cruz

Greg Nash

The anti-Trump movement is at odds with Ted Cruz and John Kasich over how to stop Donald Trump.

In interviews and strategy memos, operatives aligned with the anti-Trump movement have outlined a roadmap for how to block Trump from obtaining the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination.

But Cruz and Kasich – both of whom have been mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright — are carrying on with no regard for the anti-Trump movement’s proposed pathway to a contested convention.

The differences have stirred tensions between Republicans who share the same goal of stopping Trump, but can’t seem to get on the same page about how to do it.

“The challenge is that when you have more than one non-Trump candidate, those candidates are going to be advocating for what’s in their individual best interests rather than for the group as a whole,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye. 

That tension spilled into the open after Tuesday’s primary in New York that saw Trump claim 89 delegates, compared to only four for Kasich and none for Cruz.

The Kasich campaign lashed out at the anti-Trump forces, saying they didn’t do enough to help the Ohio governor compete in districts where Trump was vulnerable.

“The #NeverTrump movement missed opportunities to take delegates away from Donald Trump in more than half a dozen New York congressional districts last night by not engaging in any serious ways,” Kasich strategist John Weaver wrote. 

“A repeat effort by #NeverTrump forces on April 26 would put Donald Trump on track to win the nomination on the first ballot.”

Those remarks have baffled the anti-Trump groups.

Katie Packer, a veteran of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and the executive director for the anti-Trump group Our Principles PAC, said it had long been clear that Trump was headed for a landslide victory in his home state and that that playing there would not have been a prudent use of resources.

“I can’t believe someone as smart as John Kasich would endorse that memo,” she told The Hill in a Facebook Live event. “I view that as a John Weaver memo, and I think what John Weaver meant to say was, ‘thank you for all you’ve done, because without you we wouldn’t even be in this race today.’ So I just say ‘you’re welcome’ and leave it at that.”

Splits in strategy will now play out in a new round of states.
Pennsylvania and four Atlantic Coast states hold contests on Tuesday, followed by Indiana on May 3.

Never Trump, a grassroots group started by allies of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), has endorsed Cruz in some states and Kasich in others, frustrating allies of both candidates.

Indiana is ground zero for the current round of disputes.

There is little polling, but many Republicans believe Cruz has the best shot of defeating Trump in the state. A WTHR-HPI survey released Friday backed that up, with Trump taking 36 percent support over Cruz at 31 percent and Kasich at 22 percent.

The anti-Trump forces are frustrated that Kasich is making a play for the state, worrying that he will suck support away from Cruz and open the door for Trump to win more delegates than he should.

“Don’t understand Kasich logic of competing in Indiana,” former Romney strategist Stuart Stevens tweeted. “He can’t win but can help Trump, greatly reducing any convention option. Why?”

Never Trump is urging “every Hoosier who doesn’t want Donald Trump be the nominee to vote for Cruz.”

And Packer says there is nothing there for Kasich to play for.

“There’s nothing we see that indicates that Kasich has real opportunities to pick up delegates [in Indiana],” she said. “I don’t really know what their campaign’s objectives [in Indiana] are…but for our purposes – no.”

Still, Kasich this week unveiled his Indiana leadership team and announced he’d be opening two new offices there. He’ll also spend election night in the state on Tuesday while voters are casting ballots along the East Coast in contests that are believed to be a more natural fit for him.

State Sen. Michael Karikhoff (R-Ind.), a co-chairman for Kasich’s campaign in Indiana, said those calling for Kasich to defer to Cruz in Indiana are misguided.

“Gov. Kasich can absolutely win some delegates here,” he said. “People saying he shouldn’t be here aren’t being respectful of the process.”

Cruz is also running at cross-purposes to the anti-Trump movement in some instances.

Never Trump has circled the Maryland primary as the best shot for a non-Trump candidate to overtake the front-runner in the April 26 contests. The group has endorsed Kasich in that effort, saying that “unity is an absolute necessity” to topple Trump in Maryland.

But Cruz is making a play for the state, and his supporters are puzzled that the anti-Trump forces would have thrown their weight behind Kasich there.

According to the RealClearPolitics average, Trump is at 41 percent in the state, followed by Kasich at 26 percent and Cruz at 24 percent.

“I could understand it if there was a clear polling difference but Cruz has just as good a shot,” said state Sen. Justin Ready (R-Md.), who is on Cruz’s leadership team in the state. 

“I personally have no problem with Kasich, I like him fine, personally,” he continued. “But here you have a guy who has won only one state out of 35 and is still behind Rubio in delegates, or you have Cruz, who is winning or finishing second everywhere.”

Never Trump spokesman Rory Cooper downplayed the differences. He said voters who are opposed to Trump understand the math and will cast their ballots accordingly. 

“The presidential campaigns should be focusing on how to best secure as many delegates as possible and we think that’s largely inline with our thinking of where their strengths and weakness are,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll gravitate accordingly, but we can only control what we control.”

— Jonathan Swan contributed.

Tags Donald Trump Eric Cantor Ted Cruz
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