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Cruz-Kasich pact shows signs of strain

Ted Cruz and John Kasich’s shotgun wedding is already on the rocks.

Just hours after their campaigns put out statements proclaiming that they would divvy up some of the remaining states in an attempt to deny Donald Trump the nomination outright, the alliance looked anything but solid.

First Kasich appeared to undermine the deal, saying he wouldn’t tell his supporters to vote for Cruz.

Then Cruz was forced to defend the logic of the late-in-the-game pact during a news conference broadcast across the networks.

And the Trump buzzsaw gleefully sliced into the alliance, with the Republican frontrunner calling it a desperate act that proves his argument that the GOP establishment is corrupt and is rigging the system against him.

Trump proceeded to make a mockery of pundit claims that he would take on a presidential posture, delighting in skewering Cruz as a do-nothing senator and Kasich as a “disgusting” eater.

“All he is is a guy that will go down and stand and filibuster for a day or two, and the other senators all look, ‘When is he getting off the floor, Jim?’” Trump shouted at a rally in Rhode Island, talking about Cruz. “’Guy’s a pain in the ass. When’s he getting off the floor?’”

Trump also went on an extended diatribe about Kasich’s recent photo ops at various restaurants, delis and cafés, saying he has “never seen a human being eat in such a disgusting fashion.”

Nearly two months after Mitt Romney called for such a strategy, Cruz and Kasich separately announced late Sunday night that they would be dividing up some of the upcoming contests in a bid to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination outright.

The pact entails the Ohio governor ceding Indiana’s May 3 primary to his Texan rival while Cruz stands down in New Mexico and Oregon. The math roughly works: Both New Mexico and Oregon award their 24 and 28 delegates proportionally, on June 7 and May 17, respectively, while Indiana’s 57 delegates are winner-take-all by district and statewide.

The deal started to come together as Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe and Kasich’s chief strategist John Weaver touched base in person while attending last week’s Republican National Committee spring meeting in Hollywood, Florida, and agreed to stay in touch, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. On Friday, they spoke by phone and agreed to make something happen — and that same day, Cruz aides were informed that a negotiation was in the works. A day later, they reached an agreement about a specific plan of action. At no point did Cruz or Kasich talk with each other about a prospective deal.

On Monday morning, it didn’t seem that Kasich was fully on board.

“I’ve never told them not to vote for me; they should vote for me,” Kasich said about Indiana during a prickly exchange with reporters at a Philadelphia diner.

“I’m not over there campaigning and spending resources. We have limited resources,” he continued. “Mine is like the people’s campaign. I have a campaign where, you know, we’ve been outspent basically 50-to-1. You folks have been counting me out before I even got to New Hampshire. And now we can’t jam all of you into this diner. I mean, everybody chill out.”

Weaver quickly clarified the sentiment in a tweet, writing, “We’re not telling voters who to vote for in IN, only where we are going to spend resources to ultimately defeat Hillary. They get it.”

Trump seized on the comments from Kasich hours later.

“Kasich just announced that he wants the people of Indiana to vote for him,” Trump tweeted. “Typical politician — can’t make a deal work.”

If Kasich does fully pave the way for Cruz in Indiana, the senator’s supporters say it would be a big bonus. “We’re a strong second, but first place is no guarantee,” a Cruz source said. “We need everything we can get, including Kasich out of the way.”

“Him getting out of the way allows us to gain the initial support,” the Cruz source continued. “The idea would be, if he’s out of the way, then hopefully they will come to us. Hopefully.”

And a Cruz donor said the coordination was a smart move in the late stages of the campaign.

“My thought is, it’s about time,” said Charles C. Foster, a Cruz donor based in Houston. “The end game is near. “If not now, when? Trump is getting precariously close. There’s already no time to wait. You’ve got to do whatever’s necessary.”

Trump and his allies, however, aren’t sweating the pact.

“Nobody’s really concerned about it,” said a high-level Trump operative, who insisted the campaign is more focused on pivoting to the general election matchup with Clinton and projecting a more presidential bearing, which is what Wednesday’s speech in Washington, which will make no mention of Cruz or Kasich, is all about. “It’s the next logical step for people who are losing. It’s become increasingly clear that the Republican primary electorate has been ignoring these strategic games. We don’t think John Q. Lunchbuckets in Indiana is going to take it very well, being told what to do. It’s just the cynical manipulations of two campaigns who don’t have anywhere else to go.”

At the rally in Rhode Island, Trump showed no signs of the more polished, mature candidate that his new convention manager Paul Manafort promised the RNC last weekend.

Instead, he talked about Kasich’s eating habits.

“I’m always telling my young son Barron, I’m saying — and I, always with my kids, all of them — I say, children, small, little bites,” Trump said. “Small. This guy takes a pancake and he’s shoving it in his mouth. It’s disgusting. Do you want that for your president? I don’t think so. Honestly, it’s disgusting.” (The Ohio governor’s team fired back with a tweet referring to the defunct Trump Steaks brand.)

Kasich’s continued quest for the Republican nomination, Trump told his supporters, is “like if you have a child that just says: ‘I want it, mommy. I don’t care, mommy. I want it, daddy. I don’t care. I want it.’”

The new Cruz-Kasich pact is essentially an admission that neither man can catch Trump before the Republican National Convention convenes in July. Cruz, once scornful of the “fantasy” of a contested convention, now openly admits that his only shot at the nomination entails beating Trump on a second or subsequent ballot in Cleveland. Kasich, as recently as last month, was dismissive of an alliance with Cruz, asking rhetorically, “At the end of the day, how do you tell your people that are for you to go vote for somebody else?”

Early Monday morning, Trump blasted his rivals’ nascent coordination, calling it “often illegal in many other industries and yet these two Washington insiders have had to revert to collusion in order to stay alive.” “They are mathematically dead and this act only shows, as puppets of donors and special interests, how truly weak they and their campaigns are,” Trump said, noting his large and growing lead. Thanks to his campaign, he concluded, “everyone now sees that the Republican primary system is totally rigged.”

Cruz and Kasich pushed back on that idea on Monday morning.

“I said I think it’s fair because, you know, in some places we haven’t spent a lot of resources,” Kasich said Monday as he explained how his campaign conferred with its Cruz counterparts. “I didn’t spend resources in the state of Wisconsin. Minor amount of spending. I don’t have, you know, like Daddy Warbucks behind me giving me all this money. I have to be careful about my resources, but furthermore, the reason why I’m in this race, is I’m the only one that beats Hillary Clinton.”

Cruz, facing a barrage of questions from reporters before a rally in Borden, Indiana, said his alliance with Kasich is “entirely about the will of the people” and cast it as a pragmatic effort to stop a man who would lose badly in November.

“This is about winning the votes of the Hoosier State, giving Indiana the opportunity to choose, and we’re at a fork in the road. We’re at a fundamental fork in the road,” Cruz said. “And I’ll tell you, here in the state of Indiana, Donald Trump at the top of the ticket losing in a landslide would cost Republicans seats all throughout the state of Indiana.”

Kasich’s campaign appeared to be taking some action to follow through on the pact, canceling its Indiana events and announcing its first two stops in Oregon, scheduled for Thursday. (The governor will proceed with a fundraiser in Indianapolis, however.)

He also downplayed the alliance as a logical move for someone who had just a bit more than $1 million in the bank at the end of March.

“Now, you know the fact is we don’t have all of the resources in the world, but we’re still going. And we have to husband our resources, and I feel that it’s very fair for me to be able to go to areas where I can spend my resources most effectively, and the same is true for Sen. Cruz,” Kasich remarked at the diner. “What’s the big deal?”

Alex Isenstadt, Eli Stokols, Katie Glueck and Nolan D. McCaskill contributed reporting.

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