By DAN SCHNUR – – – –
Dan Schnur is director of the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics and was communications director for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. He is on Twitter: @DanSchnur.
Ted Cruz’s decision to announce Carly Fiorina as his running mate right now is an act of desperation. But it is a very smart act of desperation.
Two consecutive primary-night debacles have left Mr. Cruz reeling, even though they came on Donald Trump‘s home turf. The primary in Indiana next Tuesday has become a must-win for the Texas senator. If he loses the Hoosier State, his ability to prevent Mr. Trump from clinching a first-ballot nomination at the Republican convention will all but vanish. So with five days left to campaign, and with Mr. Trump likely to dominate news coverage with a heavily promoted foreign policy speech and his rally with former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, Mr. Cruz’s window of opportunity was shrinking fast.
Naming Ms. Fiorina to his ticket gives Mr. Cruz a huge amount of attention at a time when he desperately needs to change the subject from his mid-Atlantic washout. It also comes at a moment when his supporters need a significant boost of energy and enthusiasm after his string of recent defeats. A running mate’s ability to attract news coverage diminishes rapidly after the announcement, but the unusual timing of the decision, coupled with Ms. Fiorina’s ability to effectively attack Mr. Trump during her own campaign for the presidency, should keep her in a high-profile position at least until next week’s crucial primary.
Ms. Fiorina may also be able to help Mr. Cruz reach Republican women, who have been much more resistant to Mr. Trump’s charm than male voters. Her most memorable moment on the campaign trail was when she forcefully called out Mr. Trump for his disparaging remarks about her experience. Expect to hear about that episode with some frequency over the next several days.
The downside for Mr. Cruz is that he won’t have another chance to make this announcement again. As he himself acknowledged, presidential nominees traditionally announce their running mate at their national party convention; it’s a way to attract as much interest and excitement as possible. But right now, Mr. Cruz faces the very real possibility that he won’t be a competitor for the nomination by the time his party gathers in Cleveland this summer. This is his best and possibly last chance to rearrange the playing field in a way that gets him there.
Desperate but smart? That’s a trade-off that Mr. Cruz is willing, and maybe even happy, to accept.