When Cruz first teased this afternoon's "major announcement," three possibilities sprang to mind. First, he was landing a serious endorsement, possibly from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Second, he was following through on the groundwork he started laying earlier in the week to roll out his (very hypothetical) running mate. Third, the hype was a head-fake, designed to goad the networks into offering live coverage of a theatrical debate challenge to Donald Trump. The best case scenario was the first one. Picking up needed institutional support and/or reeling in a big name in the must-win Hoosier state would generate at least a modicum of positive press. The worst case scenario was the final option. You'd think the media would have a vested interest in helping pressure Trump into agreeing to another mega-ratings debate, but Cruz's renewed demands have gone largely uncovered, mostly drawing yawns. He would get pummeled for wasting everyone's time, and Trump probably wouldn't even respond. Once Pence's office denied that the governor would be at Cruz's event, door number two opened wider. Then WMUR-TV confirmed many observers' most plausible suspicion early this afternoon:
WMUR reporting: Cruz to announce intention to name Fiorina as his running mate https://t.co/fmGgnfXzxw— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) April 27, 2016
Last night, after Donald Trump had completed his dominant sweep of five northeastern blue states, National Review editor Rich Lowry offered some advice to Cruz:
The question now is whether this surge is limited regionally or transfers to Indiana. Certainly, all of the Trump-is-inevitable talk in the media isn’t going to hurt him. If Cruz has a gambit to blunt the media narrative out of the Northeast and turn the page going into Indiana–there’s been speculation of a VP pick–this might be the time to drop it.
Matt Lewis at the Daily Caller made the case a few weeks ago that joining forces with Carly Fiorina was Cruz's best play, given the circumstances:
Cruz probably needs to take some additional chances. His campaign has been utterly competent at the blocking and tackling (areas where Marco Rubio’s team was deficient), but when you’re down by a touchdown, you can’t play conservatively (no pun intended). Here’s one obvious idea that could shake things up: With the “unity ticket” idea out the window, Cruz should still consider selecting a running mate now (or, if there are some legal or technical reasons this cannot happen prior to the nomination, of making his intentions clear). Cruz, I think, might especially benefit from selecting a female for this role. Carly Fiorina, who has already endorsed Cruz, could barnstorm the country attacking Hillary Clinton...it would be new and fresh and exciting. It would also allow him to basically be in two places at once—to have two stars on TV, on the stump, and on the fundraising circuit.
That piece was published just after the Texan's sweeping victory in Utah, which he built upon with a string of primary and delegate wins across the first half of April. But the last two weeks have knocked Cruz back into a weakened, defensive crouch. He cannot afford to lose Indiana next Tuesday -- his delegate math would be dented badly, and the psychological impact of falling in a state that was once tentatively chalked up as a probable win for him would be immense. The media narrative, which is already deafening, would become ear-splitting. And so, in a week of desperation gambits, a Hail Mary is launched. Yesterday, we linked to Allahpundit's post outlining why picking Carly now might be Cruz's least-bad selection from a menu of unappealing options. I don't disagree with many of his points, and I'm a Carly admirer, but I'll be surprised if this stunt is met with anything other than widespread derision. Here's a guy who's down by millions of votes, and hundreds of delegates, and who's obviously worried that the window to stop his surging rival is closing. So with literally no path to the nomination before a potential second ballot at July's convention, he's going to...announce his Vice Presidential running mate?
We'll see how the optics play out, but I suspect it'll look and feel like something out of Ted Cruz's land of make believe, in which voters aren't voting the way they are, and the Manhattan media are the only true villains. Fiorina is an accomplished woman and a sound political performer who possesses an elite intellect and temperament. To her credit, she's doing everything she can to help stop a man she and many conservatives view as an unelectable, uninformed, untethered embarrassment to the party. But this maneuver has the stench of a 'final throes' spasm from a campaign that fears it is doomed. If Carly defies the odds by breathing life into the Cruz effort, rallying him to victory Indiana, then proving herself to be a real asset in California, this will look like a stroke of genius in hindsight. Color me skeptical. Then again, even if none of those things happen, this afternoon's performance is at least a concerted effort to change the trajectory of the race and disrupt a suffocating storyline. Cruz has do something. Choosing Carly is it. Let's see how the chips fall.