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How Picking Carly Fiorina as VP Could Backfire for Ted Cruz

Things didn’t go so well when Ronald Reagan tried a similar maneuver in 1976

Ted Cruz; Carly Fiorina; VP; Rolling Stone; Debate

Ted Cruz announced Wednesday that if he gets the GOP nomination, Carly Fiorina will be his running mate.

Mike Carlson/AP

Ted Cruz announced Wednesday afternoon that if he wins the GOP nomination, he’ll ask his former primary rival Carly Fiorina to be his running mate. “After a great deal of consideration and prayer, I have come to the conclusion that if I am nominated to be president of the United States that I will run on a ticket with my vice presidential nominee Carly Fiorina,” Cruz said to roaring applause in Indianapolis.

Cruz is hoping the early surprise announcement will help shore up support for his bid in Indiana, a state he badly needs to win in order to deny Trump the nomination outright. (He needs a little extra help in the state after calling a hoop “a basketball ring” on the Hoosiers court earlier Wednesday.)

Cruz is trailing in pledged delegates and individual votes, but a scenario still exists in which the Texas senator emerges from July’s convention in Cleveland with the Republican nomination. That (unlikely) scenario depends on two factors: denying Donald Trump the pledged delegates he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot, and marshaling enough support among the delegates present to win on a subsequent ballot.

Cruz seems to be succeeding on the latter front: He’s steadily been installing his own loyalists as delegates, even in states like Arizona, where all of the delegates are required to support Trump on the first ballot.

But before any of that will matter, he needs to keep Trump from hitting the magic 1,237 number — the number of delegates he needs to secure the nomination outright. And Cruz needs Indiana to do that. Cruz is hoping the announcement that Fiorina would join him on a hypothetical ticket will be enough to move the needle in his favor before next Tuesday’s primary. (He currently trails Trump by an average of more than six points in the state.)

The idea of announcing a pick for vice president before winning the nomination is unusual, but it isn’t totally unheard of. Ronald Reagan did so in 1976. And Cruz, an ardent fan of Reagan’s, ought to know that this tactic famously backfired for him that year.

It was late July. A trailing Reagan, looking to slow Gerald Ford’s momentum, shore up support from moderates and peel off as many Pennsylvania delegates as possible, announced he’d selected Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker to serve as his VP just days before the Republican convention began. The move attracted media attention, but enraged hardline conservatives who saw it as a betrayal.

Conservatives on the rules committee refused to support the creation of a new provision that would require all candidates to name their running mates before the convention ballot. Ford went on to win the nomination by a slim majority on the convention’s first ballot: 1,187 to Reagan’s 1,070. (Four years later when Reagan did win the presidency, he named Schweiker his secretary of health and human services.)

Cruz undoubtedly hopes history doesn’t repeat itself, in that respect. We’ll find out next Tuesday whether it has.

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