WASHINGTON — The unpredictable 2016 presidential campaign took another unusual turn Wednesday when Ted Cruz, a day after losing five primaries, named Carly Fiorina as his running mate — about three months before the Republican National Convention when the vice presidential pick is usually announced.
Cruz’s surprise move signaled a desperation to revive his campaign in Indiana, the next state to vote in the primary, after GOP front-runner Donald Trump swept five northeastern state primaries Tuesday.
“It’s kind of a mystifying move. But he may feel he’s sort of running out of moves to make,” said Joel Goldstein, a vice presidential historian at Saint Louis University School of Law. “She’s not an A-lister like Paul Ryan. She hasn’t had the experience. And she didn’t do particularly well in the presidential race.”
Perhaps Cruz thinks Fiorina, former chief executive of Palo Alto-based Hewlett-Packard, could help him win over voters in California’s June primary. Or that Fiorina will reinforce Cruz’s brand as an outsider. Or that she will appeal to women, who have largely turned against Trump.
But not since Ronald Reagan named Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, the most liberal Republican in the Senate, as his running mate three weeks before the 1976 convention has a candidate who has yet to clinch the nomination announced his vice presidential pick, Goldstein said.
In Reagan’s case, the move backfired. His selection alienated conservatives, and President Ford won the nomination.
Goldstein said Fiorina is the first vice presidential pick since 1936 to have never held political office.
Cruz, in a half-hour-long speech in Indianapolis, acknowledged his unusual move. He said he did it to give voters a clear choice and to let them know exactly where he stands.
“You deserve to have a candidate who doesn’t change as the wind blows at any given moment,” Cruz said. “I make this announcement today so you, the voters . . . will know what you will get.”
Cruz also repeatedly brought up Trump’s criticism of Fiorina’s appearance in a Rolling Stone interview.
“She’s faced challenges a lot worse that someone bellowing and yelling and insulting her face,” said Cruz, calling Trump a narcissistic bully and “no-good scoundrel” who is abusive and angry.
And he hailed Fiorina’s potential to unite the party. She followed up by singing to Cruz’s two young daughters on live television.
Fiorina, the only woman in the once-vast Republican field, dropped out of the race in February after a disappointing seventh-place finish in the New Hampshire primary. She endorsed Cruz in March.
Fiorina said Wednesday she was “keenly aware” that only in the United States could a young woman start off typing and filing, go on to become a chief executive, run for president, and then be named a vice presidential candidate.
Cruz trails Trump in the delegate count, but the Texan is betting he can win the nomination in a contested convention — as long as Trump does not get to the necessary 1,237 delegates beforehand. However, by locking down his running mate so early in the game, Cruz takes away his ability to leverage deals at the convention to come out on top.
Trump quickly dismissed Cruz’s announcement Wednesday in a written statement as a “desperate attempt to save a failing campaign.” On Fox News, Trump mocked the selection as “cute.”
“Given the fact that Senator Cruz has millions of votes less than me and is being clobbered on the delegate front, this is a pure waste of time,” Trump said in his statement. “The people of Indiana are very smart — they will see through this. . . . Cruz has no path to victory — he is only trying to stay relevant.”
Brandon Gaston, an Indiana GOP strategist, said Fiorina’s business background could appeal to voters concerned about the economy, voters who have been drawn to Trump’s message as “the only one who knows about jobs.”
“The pick helps him take attention away from Trump and could be a big splash,” Gaston said. “For Cruz supporters and those [who] are on the fence, it’s a solid fit.”
Indiana Republican Party chairman Jeff Cardwell said Tuesday’s primary winner will be determined by whoever spends the most time on the ground.
“You have Ted Cruz here crisscrossing the state, meeting voters,” said Cardwell, who, as state party leader, is neutral in the race. “He’s been top to bottom.”
The Cruz campaign has deployed 100 staffers and more than 3,000 volunteers to Indiana, where they are knocking on doors and calling voters, said Alice Stewart, Cruz’s spokeswoman. They have also opened up a “Camp Cruz” to house volunteers from across the country, much like they have done in other high-stakes states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
With Governor John Kasich of Ohio out of the Indiana dogfight — because of a pact with Cruz — super PACs also are pouring in money to boost Cruz, who trails Trump in state polls by an average of 6 percent. A group of pro-Cruz super PACs are spending more than $1.6 million in advertisements, while the conservative group Club for Growth says it is spending more than $1.5 million in Indiana alone.
Besides the voter outreach, Cruz is schmoozing top GOP officials in Indiana. They comprise part of the state’s 57 delegates and would be freed to vote for the candidate of their choice during the second ballot should a contested convention arise in July.
Cruz met with Indiana’s governor, Mike Pence, during the state’s annual Republican spring dinner last week. Pence has yet to make an endorsement.
Trump, meanwhile, plans to swell his Indiana office to 40 workers and has spent nearly $1 million in advertisements in the state.