Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (R) greets supporters with former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina at a campaign rally in the Pavilion at the Pan Am Plaza in Indianapolis on April 27, 2016.
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Ideas
April 28, 2016 11:01 AM EDT
Jordan is a TIME columnist, an NBC News/MSNBC political analyst and a co-host of the Words Matter podcast.

A highlight of the 2016 campaign trail has been watching third– and fourth– and even fifth–place contenders for the Republican nomination give delusional victory speeches following caucus and primary defeats.

Unfortunately, that’s how Senator Ted Cruz’s move Wednesday to make Carly Fiorina his vice-presidential pick struck me.

In love and politics, desperation rarely saves the day. Stunts are usually a sign that the end’s near. After one failed—a lukewarm pact with fellow contender John Kasich that Kasich subsequently denounced—Cruz needed another, so he nominated Fiorina as his pick for vice president to change the narrative after frontrunner Donald Trump’s clean sweep of the Acela corridor Tuesday.

Announcing Fiorina as his potential veep isn’t about capturing women’s votes; it’s a last-ditch experiment in the most critical week of his campaign before next Tuesday’s Indiana primary to remind GOP voters how toxic Trump will be up against his greatest weakness—dealing with strong women. Cruz’s banking that by elevating one of the women most savagely demeaned by Trump, he can literally bring out the very worst of Trump over the next week and dissuade anyone even remotely on the fence.

It’s hard to know what Cruz actually believes about most anything (his most consistent position is pandering), but there’s little evidence he has ingrained issues with women. Women don’t seem to have a bigger problem with him than everyone else. On the Bush campaign in 2000, it wasn’t that just women disliked him; everyone did. “I burned some bridges on that campaign,” Cruz told Politico earlier this year.

Though feminists loathe his anti-Planned Parenthood activism, Cruz actually has a record of fighting sexual assault since his undergraduate days at Princeton, arguing that a planned entryway lock system to increase dorm security wouldn’t actually solve the real problem. “The greater problem is date rape, or assaults by other students, which the planned system would do nothing to stop,” Cruz said in 1990. In the Senate, he went against others in the GOP and military brass to support Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill to remove military sexual assault from the chain of command, which has a less than stellar track record of accountability for victims.

GOP standards have truly reached rock bottom when Trump makes Cruz seem a champion for women. Make no mistake: in the Republican primary, it’s not necessarily about playing the “women’s card” for Cruz. Almost half of GOP female voters polled already say they won’t vote for Trump, in contrast to Cruz, who was opposed by a smaller margin (32%) of GOP women. In a general election, the same poll puts Clinton besting Trump by 27%; Clinton wins against Trump every day since November in a daily tracking poll of women voters.

Fiorina isn’t a pawn to drum up non-existent GOP desire to vote for a women’s rights champion, which she is most certainly not. She’s an equal offender among the male candidates when it comes to pandering on defense spending, opposing medical marijuana and, of course, Planned Parenthood. This much she has in common with Cruz: it’s hard to know what she believes since she’s carefully scripted to the point of literally regurgitating specific numbers pulled from a Heritage Foundation in debates and speeches— a defense plan that if actually enacted would reportedly add $500 billion to our over $18 trillion debt.

To her credit, at least Fiorina gave Cruz her endorsement on the early side. Overall, establishment hawks failed to band together early enough to take on the common enemy to a party that’s supposedly about individual liberty and equal opportunity: Donald Trump.

The competence with which Ted Cruz has run has his campaign is the only reason he’s gotten this far in the game. At this stage, the only way Ted Cruz can win in Indiana is if, like in Wisconsin, there’s a genuine grassroots anti-Trump movement led by local conservative media and politicians. Those are the people who Cruz’s superior delegate operation needs to have on their side by this late date—otherwise, Indiana is more likely to look like Illinois, where Trump emerged victorious.

That’s why if Carly’s the best Cruz has left to counter Trump, don’t bet on a contested convention.

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