A last-ditch alliance by John Kasich and Ted Cruz to deny Donald Trump the Republican presidential nomination, may be too late to work with voters.
And it may actually ignite a backlash.
“This could easily backfire,” said Ben Bates, a communications professor at Ohio University and expert in political messaging.
“Donald Trump is calling it desperate, and that’s a really easy message for him to sell,” Bates said. “This looks very unfair … it looks undemocratic.”
Experts had been saying for months that the only way to stop Trump was for the remaining GOP candidates to join forces. Finally, late on Sunday, Kasich and Cruz announced they had forged an unprecedented alliance to divide up primaries in three states.
While Cruz focuses on Indiana, Kasich will devote his efforts to Oregon and New Mexico, with the singular aim of blocking Trump from winning the 1,237 delegates to outright seal the GOP nomination in July.
Trump won big in New York on April 19, and is poised to sweep five eastern primaries on Tuesday where he has double-digit leads in polls.
“It’s probably too late and I think they know that,” said political consultant Jared Kamrass of Rivertown Strategies. “But what options are left?”
This alliance strategy could have worked in December or January, when there was a larger field of GOP candidates and before Trump’s momentum had really begun, Kamrass said.
“It does feel desperate and this is about six months too late,” Kamrass said. “It’s kind of a prisoner's dilemma. You have to get all parties to agree and that moment hasn’t come until now.”
But the deal may be lopsidedly bad for Kasich, said Paul Beck, political science professor at Ohio State University.
“It’s not a very good deal for Kasich and it may be a concession he’s making to reality,” Beck said.
Indiana is a neighboring state where Kasich had thought he could perform well.
“He had already made commitments there and had people on the ground,” Beck said. “They were really trying to make a play in Indiana. I think he looked at the polls … and felt there no path to winning Indiana.”
Recent polls show Trump with a slight lead over Cruz in Indiana, with Kasich a distant third.
Now Kasich says he won’t campaign in Indiana, and will save his efforts for Oregon and New Mexico, which have more moderate voters with whom he tends to perform better, experts said.
The Indiana primary on May 3 will be a crucial testing ground for this new "stop Trump" strategy.
“The stop-Trump people have to beat Trump in Indiana,” Beck said. “If not, Trump will have enough momentum to get close enough to 1237 delegates at the convention, to lock up the nomination.”
Meanwhile, Trump is expected to spin the Cruz-Kasich alliance to his advantage.
“You know how Trump is going to play this, and he will use it to make both Cruz and Kasich look bad and look like they’re desperate,” Beck said.
Their deal only applies to Indiana, Oregon and New Mexico — three of the 15 states remaining on the Republican primary calendar. It doesn’t mention the big prize of California, which holds its primary on June 7 with 172 delegates at stake.
The Indiana primary will be a “trial run,” for the new alliance, Bates said.
“They assume voters will gravitate to the other candidate, but they don’t know for sure,” Bates said, especially since Cruz and Kasich represent opposite ends of the GOP.
“If it looks like they chose the wrong strategy and are actually giving Donald Trump votes, they’re going to call it off,” Bates said.
If this happens, it could be deadly for Kasich’s campaign in New Mexico and Oregon, where Cruz had promised cede.
“There’s no guarantee Cruz will abide by his agreement if it’s not in his best interest,” Beck said. “He may cheat on it.”
Which may leave voters feeling as if they are watching a dramatic TV show, rather than a presidential election race.
“My hope is that voters aren’t swayed by alliances like you would see on an episode of Game of Thrones or Survivor,” Kamrass said.