In the past few weeks, and especially since Super Tuesday, there have been many calls for a Cruz-Rubio “unity ticket,” to unite the moderate and more conservative wings of the party against the rising candidacy of Donald Trump, who has corralled a 30 to 40 percent plurality. Jonah Goldberg compared the possibility of a unity ticket to conservative Ronald Reagan’s pick of his primary opponent George H. W. Bush in 1980, which similarly fused together establishment and Goldwater voters for a united Republican Party in the general election.
However, there are several problems with the possibility of a Cruz/Rubio or Rubio/Cruz ticket: no one can agree on who gets the top slot, it’s far from clear that current Cruz voters would accept Rubio as their candidate, and – perhaps most implausibly – it requires one of the candidates to demonstrate almost Washingtonian political self-sacrifice in order to work. If we accept that a run for President today requires nearly delusional levels of self-confidence and that capitulation for the good of the conservative movement and the country is unlikely, is there any way to save the unity ticket?
The answer is yes, but it requires us to reach back to the example of pre-Twelfth Amendment America, where who would be President and Vice President was not decided before ballots in the Electoral College were cast. Instead, each delegate was given two votes, and the man with the highest delegate vote count became President, while the runner-up took the Vice Presidential slot. This system nearly catapulted a man widely regarded as dishonest, unprincipled, and dangerous, Aaron Burr, to the Presidency (sound familiar?), and was rightly checked by the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804. However, the idea of deciding the President and Vice President by delegate winner and runner-up, if applied within the Republican Party convention, could save the idea of the unity ticket by making it more politically palatable to Senators Cruz and Rubio.
Senators Cruz and Rubio should make a joint announcement that each will choose the other as Vice President, with the order of the ticket decided only in July by whoever ends up with the higher number of delegates at the convention. This pledge requires only a lesser sacrifice on each Senator’s part. Rather than abandon a bid for the highest office in the land, such a pact would only demand that each plays nice with the other on the campaign trail going forward, limiting attacks to substantive policy distinctions – a tactic they both seem to have embraced anyway starting with the last Republican debate.
The most difficult aspect of the alliance will come in winner-take-all states, where each candidate’s supporters voting for their man virtually assures a Trump victory. The Cruz and Rubio campaigns should divvy these states by who has the better shot to win in each, and make a limited endorsement for the man most likely to win within each state. Alternatively, if this still involves too much political sacrifice, the presumptive third-place finisher in each winner-take-all state should pull out all advertising in that state other than ads hitting Donald Trump.
The unity ticket pledge will calm the rancor between Cruz and Rubio voters. Each can keep their bid for President, but the American people can be assured that each candidate’s delegates at the convention will be effectively pledged for the winner between them. The nomination structure of the early Republic may be the best way to stop the coronation of Donald Trump and unite the anti-Trump majority of the Republic Party.