How to build an anti-Trump front

If you’ve set aside Easter to do some election reading, don’t miss this piece by David Wasserman at FiveThirtyEight on the strategy of denying Donald Trump the Republican nomination.

There’s been some controversy over whether John Kasich should withdraw from the race to consolidate the anti-Trump vote behind a single candidate, Ted Cruz. Kasich’s defenders argue that his presence actually maximises the chances of denying Trump a majority in advance of the Republican convention.

In some states that’s clearly true. In New York, for example – Trump’s home state, and naturally poor Cruz territory – reducing it to a one-on-one contest would mean Trump would almost certainly win more than 50% of the vote statewide and in most congressional districts, thus taking all of the delegates from those districts. Having Kasich in the field would reduce the chance of that happening.

Contrast states like Wisconsin and Indiana, which are winner-take-all by congressional district, with no threshold: there, dividing the anti-Trump vote would be tactical suicide.

So Wasserman has studied the geographical strengths and weaknesses of the candidates so far to come up with a plan for how Cruz and Kasich should divide up the remaining states if they were to agree on a joint anti-Trump strategy. Which states (or parts thereof) each should concede to the other, and which ones it would be useful for both to run hard in.

It’s all good, but in particular don’t miss the graph of candidate support by education level. The combined Kasich and Marco Rubio vote ranges from 57% in areas where more than 60% (of those over 25) have at least a bachelor’s degree, right down to just 17% in places where that figure is below 10%.

Trump’s vote varies the other way, but so, even more strikingly, does Cruz’s: from 29% in the least educated areas down to 8% among the highly-educated.

So there’s plenty of scope for Cruz and Kasich to play to their respective strengths and avoid getting in each other’s way. But there are also some obvious problems with this attempt.

One is the simple fact that reaching an agreement would require someone having to talk to Cruz, which no-one in the Republican establishment seems keen to do. That, however, is not an insuperable problem: provided the mutual self-interest is there, a territorial strategy could emerge tacitly without any explicit deal.

More serious is the fact that any deal, explicit or not, would depend on fudging its ultimate objective. Cruz and Kasich have goals beyond just stopping Trump: each wants the nomination for himself, and since Cruz has (and will have) a lot more delegates, it’s most unlikely that he will yield on that point.

Kasich, however, has no particular reason to prefer Cruz to Trump. If he holds the balance of power at the convention but can’t manoeuvre into the top spot himself, it’s entirely possible that he would throw his support to Trump in return for the vice-presidential nomination. That’s not something that Cruz wants to assist.

It’s only since the departure of Rubio that one can say the anti-Trump candidates are finally running against Trump rather than against each other. But that certainly doesn’t mean that their interests coincide.

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