Vice presidents rarely make much difference in modern American politics. Chances are Ted Cruz’s decision to put Carly Fiorina on his ticket will follow that pattern.
The Texas senator, badly in need of a boost for a campaign that must win Tuesday’s Indiana primary or face near-certain doom, took a page from the playbook of his political idol, Ronald Reagan.
Reagan announced a vice presidential choice, Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, ahead of the 1976 convention. But his long-shot move didn’t work. Reagan’s choice of the centrist senator didn’t get him much, and he lost the nomination to President Gerald Ford.
Cruz faces two problems. One is that historically, people vote for presidents, not vice presidents. Memorably, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas embarrassed Republican Dan Quayle during their 1988 debate – “You’re no John F. Kennedy” – but the Bush-Quayle ticket still beat the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket easily.
This time, few saw the Cruz move as making much difference.
“I don’t know that it matters at this point,” said Erin Engels, assistant professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. “People who were going to go for Cruz would be going anyway.”
Cruz’s second challenge is whether Fiorina, a former business executive with Hewlett- Packard, can be a viable candidate. She finished seventh in both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, and suspended her campaign.
Fiorina can appeal to the portion of the population that is most troubled by Trump – women. According to a Gallup poll, 7 in 10 women have an unfavorable opinion of the New York billionaire, who has said demeaning and disrespectful things to or about women.
Fiorina was even the target of some barbs by Trump; he had told Rolling Stone “look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
He kept criticizing Fiorina, noting her controversial tenure as head of Hewlett-Packard.
Cruz is banking on California, the last major delegate-rich primary, which will be held June 7. Fiorina lived in California for many years and ran a failed campaign for U.S. Senate, but has a following among the state’s conservatives.
Fiorina hit back at a debate. “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” she said.
Mark Meckler, president of the tea party organization, Citizens for Self-Governance, of Chicago Park, Calif., saw the advantages of Fiorina. “I think it’s aimed directly at Trump. Put a business outsider on his ticket. That’s sort of going at Trump,” he said. He also appreciated her ability to challenge Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
But, he added, “I don’t think she ran a great campaign.”
And Fiorina has been dismissive of Cruz.
While a presidential candidate, Fiorina derided Cruz on CNN for saying “whatever he needs to say to get elected” and questioned why he did not renounce his dual Canadian citizenship until 2014. (Cruz has said he was unaware he had dual citizenship until a Dallas Morning News report in 2013.)
But after dropping out of the race in February and endorsing Cruz last month, Fiorina has papered over her criticisms by suggesting they were disagreements on strategy, not principle, according to CNN.
By announcing the choice in Indiana, Cruz is coalescing his anti-Trump strategy. Cruz is looking to go one-on-one with Trump and has a clear path in the Hoosier State after reaching an agreement with the third remaining Republican candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He will not compete in Indiana in return for Cruz staying out of Oregon and New Mexico.
Cruz is looking to recover momentum after losing all five states in the so-called Acela primary Tuesday. The Indiana primary is May 3.
Voters at the relatively small rollout of the “Cruz-Carly” team in downtown Indianapolis were upbeat about the choice of a vice president. “I liked Carly from the beginning,” said Dan Hernandez from Crown Point, Ind., adding, “she carries his message well.”
James Anderson, an Indianapolis engineer who has been a Cruz supporter from the start, was pragmatic. “I think it was necessary. We need a game-changer. I’m concerned that Indiana voters are going to go with Trump because he’s exciting. He’s an entertainer.”
Cruz also is banking on California, the last major delegate-rich primary, which will be held June 7. Fiorina lived in California for many years and ran a failed campaign for U.S. Senate, but has a following among the state’s conservatives.
And because of the way delegates are chosen in the Golden State – from each congressional district – Cruz has a chance to peel off delegates that might have gone to Trump.
Fiorina remains somewhat of an unknown quantity politically in California. She lost her bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010 with 42 percent of the vote, a campaign the California-based Meckler noted was “terrible.” And she’s known as the executive who was fired and presided over thousands of layoffs.
What is more, Kasich chief strategist John Weaver told McClatchy that his campaign was in conversations about a similar “non-compete” agreement with the Cruz camp over California.
It is all part of the strategy to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs to win on the first ballot at the GOP convention in July. Both Cruz and Kasich are pursuing a second- or third-ballot game plan when most delegates won’t be bound to the results from their states.
Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.