A lot of money has been spent by anti-Trump super PACs with little to show for it. Trump has been nearly impervious to negative advertising because (as I am continually reminded by some of my Trump-supporting friends) his core supporters simply don’t care about Trump University, how Trump manages his resorts, or where his ties are made. They don’t even care that much about policy. What they are attracted to is his carefully crafted and fanatically guarded aura of success, that he pays no heed to political correctness, and the promise that he will sweep away a timid, self-serving “establishment.” Many have a single issue — immigration — and for everything else they have a blind faith that Trump believes what they do, or at least that he will surround himself with “great people” so that Trump’s apparent ignorance or troubling personality issues are really not that important. That may be frustrating to the anti-Trump crowd, but that’s how it is. Negative ads run by nebulous groups only play to Trump’s narrative of being the enemy of the “establishment.”
So how can the anti-Trump super PACs actually help to derail Trump? Help anti-Trump voters to vote strategically in up-coming primary states that award delegates winner-take-all by congressional district by commissioning polling data, by congressional district, in these states. Yes, that is an expensive proposition, but rather than spending lots of money trying to wean away 5% – 10% of potential Trump supporters, it will likely be much more productive spending that money to try to keep 10% – 20% of the electorate from inadvertently allowing Trump to attain victory in winner-take-all congressional districts with only about 40% of the vote.
The states in question are Wisconsin (April 5), Pennsylvania and Maryland (April 26), Indiana (May 3), and California (June 7). In all these states, the winner of each congressional district receives all the delegates associated with that district. There are no points for second. A similar state was Illinois in which Trump got 39% of the vote but ended up with about 80% of the delegates because he won a plurality in most of the congressional districts.
David Wasserman has studied the demographics to determine where Kasich and Cruz are likely to do well in upcoming contests — Cruz in very conservative areas; Kasich in less conservative areas with a high percentage of college graduates. He suggests that Kasich and Cruz carve out territory for a “two-front” attack against Trump. That all sounds fine, but it doesn’t appear likely that the Cruz and Kasich camps are going to get out of “war room” mentality and cooperate with each other. Cruz wants to take into the convention the notion that he is the only viable alternative to Trump. Kasich wants to be able to say that, not only is he doing the best in head-to-head polls against Clinton and is likely the most widely acceptable alternative within the GOP ranks, but that he has “momentum” and has more than just his home state on his victory belt. Both understand that if they can’t wrap up a contested convention within the first few ballots, the likelihood of an outside “compromise candidate” (most likely Paul Ryan) being drafted will grow exponentially with each successive ballot.
But if the candidates themselves will not cooperate, the anti-Trump super PACs, by providing polling data by congressional district, can give anti-Trump voters the ability to vote for the candidate not named Trump that has the best shot at winning their particular congressional district, and thereby prevent a repeat of the Illinois scenario.
In Wisconsin, for instance, current statewide polling indicates that Cruz is around 36%, Trump 33%, and Kasich 20%. But there are probably one or two congressional districts (i.e. the 2nd district, containing Madison) in which Kasich may be the strongest candidate and where Cruz supporters would be wise to vote for Kasich. For most other congressional districts, Kasich supporters may be wise to vote for Cruz. In Pennsylvania, the shoe is on the other foot, with Trump at about 33%, Kasich at 30%, and Cruz at 20%. In Pennsylvania, Kasich may be the strategic non-Trump vote for the majority of the congressional districts, but Cruz may be the best candidate in several.
It may behoove Kasich to suspend his campaign before California (June 7) especially if the current polling data, which shows him a distant third, holds up. The stakes are simply too high and the goodwill engendered by suspending will far outweigh the value of a handful of delegates. But there is a good argument for Kasich to stay in until then. Cruz needs Kasich to do well in New York, for instance. If Trump gets more than 50% of the vote there, he will get all of the state’s delegates. Cruz does not poll well in New York and his only hope to participate in the delegate haul is for Kasich to do well enough so that together they can deny Trump the outright victory (indeed, the pro-Cruz super PACs should be running pro-Kasich ads there). Kasich may also have a shot to win winner-take-all Delaware, and will likely take delegates from Trump in proportional states like Oregon and Washington.
What Cruz, Kasich, and all those Republicans who shudder at the thought of Trump as the GOP nominee, all need to avoid, however, is Trump walking away with the lion’s share of the delegates in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Indiana, and California. If the anti-Trump super PACs shell out the funds needed to provide voters with needed congressional district-based polling data in these states, finally those super PACs will have found a productive purpose.