Negotiation in the News: For Cruz and Kasich, A Short and Tenuous Alliance

By — on / Leadership Skills

The failed partnership between the former rival presidential candidates points to the promise and perils of alliance building.

In multiparty negotiations, it’s common – and often wise – for low-power parties to form alliances with the goal of gaining leverage or a stronger voice. In international negotiations over climate change, trade, and other issues, for example, poorer, developing nations often form large alliances that enable them to capture the attention of the developed world. Within organizations, both formal and informal alliances often develop among team members and department heads. And, when doing so is legal and ethical, participants in auctions, and other multiparty competitions may be able to find ways to ally to their mutual advantage.

Yet alliances are notoriously unstable and difficult to pull off, as a recent pact between former Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and John Kasich illustrates. We review how that agreement unfolded – and unraveled – with the goal of showing how you can do better when constructing your own alliances.

Clearing a path for victory

For many months, U.S. senator Cruz and Ohio governor John Kasich were competitors in the crowded race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. As the competition dwindled this spring and they found themselves trailing behind front-runner Donald Trump, Cruz publicly called Kasich, who was placing a distant third, a “spoiler” and urged him to drop out of the race.

In March, Kasich’s team approached the Cruz campaign with a plan aimed at stopping Trump from gaining the delegates he’d need to win the party’s nomination at its July convention in Cleveland. Specifically, Kasich’s team said it would stop investing resources in Indiana’s May 9 primary if Cruz agreed to clear a similar path for Kasich in Oregon’s and New Mexico’s primaries, to held May 19 and June 7, respectively, according to CNN.

At first, the Cruz team ignored the offer. But by mid-April, polls showed Cruz trailing Trump in Indiana, in part because of Kasich’s popularity in some areas of the state. Neither Cruz nor Kasich stood a chance of winning the party’s nomination before the convention, but they might still be able to deny Trump a first-ballot win. Cruz’s campaign manager, Jeff Roe, began privately negotiating the terms of a deal with Kasich’s chief strategist, John Weaver, during Republican National Convention Committee meetings in Florida.

An agreement unraveling

On April 25, the news broke that Cruz and Kasich had reached a pact. According to Roe, the Cruz campaign would “focus its time and resources in Indiana and, in turn, clear the path for Governor Kasich to compete in Oregon and New Mexico,” the New York Times reports. The Kasich campaign confirmed this understanding, saying it would shift its resources in Western states to “give the Cruz campaign a clear path in Indiana.” The campaigns said they expected their allies and third-party donors to follow their lead. Trump mocked the deal on Twitter with characteristic swagger, calling it collusion and a sign of “desperation!”

The same day the Cruz-Kasich deal was announced, it already seemed to be on shaky ground. When a group of reporters asked Kasich how residents of Indiana should vote, he said they “ought to vote for me,” according to Business Insider. The following day, he said on the Today show that he hadn’t “told anybody not to vote for me. I’m not just not there campaigning.” Meanwhile, Cruz didn’t ask his supporters in Oregon and New Mexico to switch their allegiance to Kasich.

To try to win back some favorable press attention, on April 27, Cruz announced ex-presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina as his running mate. The next day, Fiorina called for Kasich to drop out of the race, according to Business Insider. After Cruz told a rally that Kasich had pulled out of the state, Kasich strategist Weaver tweeted, “I can’t stand liars.”

On May 3, Trump won Indiana’s Republican primary with 53.3% of the vote as compared to Cruz’s 36.7% and Kasich’s 7.5%. That’s right, Cruz dropped out of the race; Kasich followed suit the next day.

Toward more successful alliances

As the failed Kasich-Cruz pact demonstrates, alliances need to be constructed and implemented with care. Here are some guidelines to help you get your next alliance right.

Watch the timing.

By the time Cruz and Kasich had hatched their plan to thwart Trump, he appeared all but unstoppable. To gain an edge in multiparty negotiation or competition, low-power parties may need to team up early.

Cover all the bases.

The fact that the Cruz-Kasich deal unraveled so quickly suggests that the teams didn’t clearly specify the terms of their deal. Would they withdraw funding only from the states involved? Would they continue to encourage their supporters to vote for them in those states of promote their alliance partner instead? Because alliances are prone to collapsing, it’s all the more important to cover significant issues in your negotiations.

Broaden your perspective.

Near the tail end of a long campaign, Cruz and Kasich appeared to have difficulty shifting from a competitive mindset. When allying with a competitor or former competitor, stress the broader goals that you share right from the start of your negotiation. Then touch base to reaffirm these overarching goals throughout the process.

Revisit your agreement.

Multiparty negotiations are fluid and ever-changing, as parties and their interests shift throughout the course of talks and contests. For this reason, it’s important to continually revisit the terms of your alliance during the implementation stage. Check in periodically with your ally (or allies) to ensure their needs are being met and to communicate when yours are not. Make adjustments as necessary, and be prepared to disband the alliance if it appears to have outlived its usefulness.

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