Ted Cruz ill-advised in running mate pick

Jonathan Bernstein
Jonathan Bernstein

Even by this presidential race’s standards, it seems a dubious strategy. Ted Cruz named Carly Fiorina as his running mate, three months before the GOP convention and with several states yet to hold their primaries. Ronald Reagan did something similar in 1976, in naming Sen. Richard Schweiker as his running mate, before Gerald Ford was named the nominee. But Reagan had a specific goal in mind.

In Cruz’s case, it’s a desperate move. Fiorina has no government experience and lost badly in other elective office attempts. She offers no constituencies or Republican-aligned interest groups. After she was trounced in her California Senate race, she left the state, with no love lost, so it isn’t as if she would be helpful in that important primary on June 7. Her national favorability numbers have been consistently low.

Cruz’s move mainly shows the box he is in. He needs to do more than win Indiana and California to have a shot at the nomination. Even if he can stop Trump from getting the nomination on June 7, he will need plenty of delegates, and he’s given away his biggest chit to someone who won’t bring in any.

Nor would Fiorina make sense as a running mate in the general election. She would likely draw fire for being unprepared, given her total lack of government experience. Because she was eliminated early in the race, it isn’t clear she was vetted the way mostcandidates were.

It’s possible that Fiorina was the best person available – that is, the best who would be the “running mate” of a candidate who just got clobbered in several states, is unlikely to win the nomination except in a convention fight, and wouldn’t be a strong nominee even in the best of circumstances.

If so, Cruz should not have named anyone, at least not until his prospects improved enough that he could attract someone with greater stature. Adding a Scott Walker or Marco Rubio to his ticket would have been a strong sign that the party was still resisting Trump and that supporting Cruz was the only way to do so. Adding Fiorina? It’s showing a weak hand.

Choosing Fiorina also reminds us that he was the one who rushed into a government shutdown battle without an exit plan. Good presidents and good presidential candidates resist the urge to make important commitments in order to win news cycles.

Maybe Cruz figured that he had to do something that went against the odds. Conservative writer Dan McLaughlin wrote that “Trump handles criticism from women very poorly.” Her status as Cruz’s running mate will get Fiorina plenty of TV time to tweak Trump. But baiting Trump hasn’t worked so far.

Bottom line? Cruz needs to win in Indiana this coming Tuesday, but he’s still behind in the polls right now. It’s hard to see how this gambit changes anything.

Twitter: @jbview.