Ted Cruz’s move to announce his running mate before locking down the nomination is unusual but not unprecedented.
In fact, Ronald Reagan did the same thing when he was behind in a presidential race.
Unfortunately for Cruz, that was the one the Gipper lost.
Cruz announced on Wednesday that he will pick former rival Carly Fiorina as his vice president if he becomes the Republican party’s nominee in July at its convention. In 1976, Reagan did the same thing as he was trying to get an edge on then-President Gerald Ford.
It was the last-ditch effort of a losing candidate, and it wasn’t enough. And that history may be poised to repeat itself.
“I think all would acknowledge this race, if anything, it is unusual,” Cruz said during his announcement. “Where we are now, the mainstream media, the New York media executives, and the Washington lobbyists are all trying to tell the American people the race is over. But let me tell you, where we are right now, where we are right now, nobody is getting to 1,237 delegates.”
Craig Shirley, a Reagan biographer, said Reagan announced his vice presidential pick because CBS News was poised to run a story that would have showed conclusively that Ford would win at the convention. Reagan’s surprise announcement gave his campaign a burst of excitement—and CBS held the story.
“It worked brilliantly to kill the CBS story, which kept Reagan’s campaign alive until Kansas City,” Shirley said.
While Reagan was able to force a contested convention, Ford went on to beat him in Kansas City at the Republican National Convention that year. But lasting those extra weeks gave him a long-term boost.
“It added to Reagan’s aura of being a guy who was a gambler and somebody who was willing to do whatever it took to win,” Shirley said.
“There was no downside whatsoever,” he added.
Ford lost the 1976 general election to Jimmy Carter, and Reagan made a comeback four years later to beat Carter.
Still, Cruz shouldn’t read the tea leaves too closely.
Reagan was much more competitive when he made his surprise veep announcement than Cruz is right now. At the time, Reagan had won 1,034 of the 1,130 delegates needed to win at the convention. Ford had a tiny lead over him, with 1,106 delegates.
Meanwhile, Trump currently has 953 of the requisite 1,237 delegates, by The New York Times’ count, and Cruz only has 546.
On top of that, Politico recently determined that Trump is on track to win more primary votes than any other Republican candidate in modern history. And he went five-for-five in Tuesday’s primaries, raking in double-digit wins in every state that voted. As an added bonus, an NBC poll this week showed him winning the support of 50 percent of Republican primary voters for the first time.
As you might suspect, these are tough times for the Cruz Crew. And announcing the Fiorina pick gives his camp a rare chance to distract pundits from Trump’s apparent inevitability.
“Is it a Hail Mary pass? Sure it is, of course it is,” Shirley said. “But, you know what, it’s the fourth quarter. And when you’re down by two or three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, you have to start throwing the ball long. Sometimes it works.”
In keeping with that metaphor, Democrats are ready and waiting for an interception.
“I think the most accurate description of that team would be mean and meaner,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer on a call with reporters about Cruz’s announcement.
Fiorina challenged Boxer in the 2010 California Senate race. The Democrat dispatched Fiorina handily, and she still seems to hold a grudge.
“He wants to ship immigrants out of America and she’s already shipped jobs out of America,” Boxer continued. “And they are the perfect duo, seriously. You know, I would predict actually that this Fiorina merger will be just as successful as her last one at HP.”
Meanwhile, conservative groups—including the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund and the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List—praised Cruz’s move.
We won’t have to wait til Cleveland to find out if it worked.
On May 3, Indiana Republicans vote in their primary—widely viewed as a must-win for Cruz if he wants his campaign to retain any semblance of seriousness. Trump leads Cruz by 6.3 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls in the state. So the Texan could use some Fiorinamentum.
Team Kasich—who struck a weird, sort of non-aggression pact with Cruz a few days ago—was not impressed.
“Carly Fiorina ran an honorable campaign,” said communications director Mike Schrmpf, “but most Republicans will meet this decision with a collective shrug.”