How Can Rubio and Cruz Stop Trump? Flip a Coin

By Jonathan Witt Published on February 24, 2016

Donald Trump just won the Nevada caucuses by a wide margin, and conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg is making  the case that a Rubio-Cruz compact, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio at the top of the ticket and Texas Senator Ted Cruz agreeing to drop out in exchange for the VP slot, may be the only way to stop Trump from winning the nomination. But what are the odds the ambitious Cruz would agree to play second fiddle given all the bad blood between the two senators? The opposite scenario, with Rubio playing second fiddle, is just as unlikely, particularly since Rubio finished just ahead of Cruz in South Carolina and Nevada. Neither man is likely to agree to take the VP slot soon enough for a Rubicruz or Cruzio nomination missile to derail the Trump Express. So here’s my idea: flip a coin.

Yeah, really. If Cruz and Rubio can’t decide who should be at the top of the ticket in a hypothetical compact before, say, Sunday at 2 p.m., they should flip a coin — loser gets the VP slot, drops out and backs the other for the nomination to the hilt. Yes, they should earnestly pray and fast beforehand, asking God to guide the outcome. And yes, they might want to keep the coin toss a secret. And yes they would need to record the agreement and coin toss on a private camera and with trusted witnesses in the room to hold both parties accountable for the outcome. If one of them welches on the deal, the other has to be able to make him pay dearly — not for revenge but so that he can be confident the other guy won’t welch out on the deal in the first place, knowing the price will be too high.

Fanciful idea? Maybe, but less fanciful than Goldberg’s idea of the ambitious Cruz simply bowing out and backing Gang-of-Eight Rubio for president with Texas and Super Tuesday just around the corner.

Goldberg argues that Rubio would need to be at the top of the ticket since establishment types might actually bolt to Trump or pout in the corner if Cruz were at the top. On the other hand, according to a recent national poll, 26 percent of Cruz supporters would go to Trump if Cruz dropped out, whereas only 17 percent of Rubio supporters would go to Trump if Rubio dropped out. Obviously, those numbers might change if the man dropping out backed the other guy with gusto, but Trump still would probably gain more supporters from anti-establishment Cruz exiting than from Rubio exiting.

How many would bolt to the rhetorically tough-borders Trump if tough-borders Cruz were just in the VP slot? They might decide that a President Rubio could do a lot of immigration damage in four or eight years even with Cruz in the VP slot, and decide to roll the dice with build-a-wall Trump.

My point isn’t that it’s obvious it should be Cruz at the top of this hypothetical ticket. My point is that there are such good arguments either way that it’s implausible one of these ambitious men will agree to go veep soon enough for it to matter. By March 16 it’ll probably all be over but the campaign autopsy for both candidates, and it may be over for all practical purposes by this time next week, with Super Tuesday already in the rearview mirror.

Only if one of the two does dramatically better than the other on Super Tuesday, and only if he is also outpolling the other by a significant margin nationally, would it be plausible that one of them would agree to accept the VP slot and drop out. And the March primary calendar is so tight that even that wakeup alarm might work too slowly, with the third-place finisher hitting the snooze one too many times and rousing himself from his sleepwalk toward the Trumpian cliff too late to do any good.

There’s also the near-term matter of Thursday’s GOP debate. If each man really thinks he has a shot at winning the nomination, then both should train all their guns on Trump. Trump supporters may not care that their guy is not a solid conservative. But they might care to know he said that his sister would make a fantastic Supreme Court justice even though she supports late-term abortions. They might care to know that by at least one measure Trump is a subpar entrepreneur, having underperformed the US stock market since 1982.

They might also care to know that Trump mostly loses to both Hillary and Sanders in hypothetical general election match-ups, and that the liberal media has undoubtedly been treating him with kid gloves in the primaries in hopes he will win the nomination instead of either of the more electable GOP alternatives.

The next time Trump brags about getting a lot of campaign bang for the buck and plans to do the same in putting federal government’s fiscal house in order, will Cruz and Rubio team up and show how prodigal and ineffective many of Trump’s business endeavors have been? Will they prevent him from denying his history of bankruptcies, demonstrate that his allegiance to big government/big business cronyism runs long and deep, and show why this and his mercantilist trade policies are a recipe for American weakness, decline and inflation, not American greatness?

If they can’t stop bickering with each other long enough to do this in a single debate, perhaps they don’t deserve the White House, never mind which one is at the top of the ticket.

A Little More House Cleaning

If they do strike a bargain, either with a coin toss or by some miracle of humility and clear thinking, there are a couple other bits of house cleaning. They will need to work quickly and assiduously to repair bridges with Carson, particularly the bridge between Cruz and Carson. Cruz’s decision to fire his communications director is a step in the right direction, but more will be needed.

Even more importantly from a strategic standpoint, they will need to get in a room with Ohio governor John Kasich, explain to him that if Trump promises him the VP slot (to lock down the swing state of Ohio) that promise isn’t worth much because polls show that Trump is very unlikely to win a general election. And then they need to promise Kasich something very plum in the Cruzio or Rubicruz administration. Yes, this is politics — sausage making, the art of the possible and all that. Not pretty, but neither is there anything unethical about promising a competent, mostly conservative Ohio governor a rich payoff for standing beside them and athwart Trump and shouting “Stop!”

An Eye to the 2020 Election?

A crucial weakness in this fantasy compact scheme: Both Cruz and Rubio likely have an eye on the 2020 election. The thinking: Trump may be unbeatable in the GOP nomination bid but very likely to lose in the general election based on national polling match-ups that mostly show Trump losing to both Hillary and Bernie. If a Democrat does beat Trump in November, then in four years America may be ready for a change from twelve years of a Democratic-controlled White House. At that point the GOP candidate who ran the strong second to Trump this year would be the heir apparent. Cruz and Rubio, both young, may decide that finishing a clear second to Trump this year is prize enough. By the end of the debate Thursday night, we’ll likely know. If they are running for second with an eye to 2020, look for them to continue training most of their fire on each other.


Jonathan Witt is managing editor of The Stream and author, with Jay W. Richards, of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanRWitt.

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