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Ted Cruz’s VP gambit: Ronald Reagan tried a similar tactic in 1976

When Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

When Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) chose Carly Fiorina as his running mate on Wednesday, April 27, 2016, it wasn't the first time a GOP presidential contender picked a vice presidential candidate before sewing up the nomination. Photo Credit: AP / Michael Conroy

Sen. Ted Cruz isn’t the first contender for the Republican presidential nomination to name a running mate before the race was settled in an attempt to swing the race his way.

Thing is, it didn’t work out too well for the first guy.

Ronald Reagan, a Republican whom Cruz says he reveres, tried the gambit back in 1976.

On the eve of the GOP convention in Kansas City, Reagan was trailing President Gerald Ford in the delegate chase, though the nomination hadn’t been locked up. Looking to sway some delegates to his side, Reagan said that if nominated, he’d tap Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania to be his running mate.

Cruz (R-Texas) on Wednesday said he’d pick Carly Fiorina to be his running mate. Fiorina also ran for the GOP presidential nomination before dropping out earlier this year.

Cruz made the announcement the day after GOP front-runner Donald Trump swept five primaries in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, putting him on a path to perhaps clinch the nomination before the Republican convention this summer. Also, Cruz’s move came just days before Tuesday’s primary in Indiana, a state some analysts say he must win or else give up hope of blocking Trump.

Like Cruz, Reagan’s strategy was simple, even as it came off as a bit desperate: The conservative Reagan was offering a balanced ticket with the moderate to liberal Schweiker. They dubbed it a “unity” ticket that could win in the fall.

Also, Reagan hoped to lure Pennsylvania delegates who were leaning toward Ford but were uncommitted entering the convention in Kansas City. Further, he hoped to put Ford on the defensive and force the president to name a running mate before the convention started.

It certainly grabbed headlines and changed the dynamic of the conversation entering Kansas City.

“Mr. Reagan: What in the world do you think you’re doing?” asked a Chicago Tribune editorial.

Reagan’s move, a newspaper columnist wrote at the time, could turn out to be “genius or a serious miscalculation.”

It was the latter.

Only one Pennsylvania delegate reportedly switched to Reagan. Meanwhile, conservatives saw it as selling out their movement.

Then Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) likened it to: “a farmer selling his last cow to buy a milking machine.”

The key blow came when the Mississippi delegation — its leader unhappy with the Schweiker gambit — moved as a block to support Ford.

In the end, Ford bested Reagan by 117 votes.

The reaction to Cruz’s move also has been questioning.

Whereas Reagan made his announcement on the eve of the Republican convention and while he was barely behind Ford in delegates, Cruz named a running mate even though 10 states have yet to hold primaries and after he’s been mathematically eliminated from being able to win enough delegates to secure the nomination. (Cruz’s hope is to block Trump from clinching a majority, then emerge as the winner at a brokered convention.)

“This move looks like desperation,” said Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist. “I don’t think it will succeed because it’s too presumptive at this point.”

Further, it is unclear how Fiorina will help Cruz win votes, said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist.

“She was good in debates. But it’s not like she got a lot of votes,” Sabato said.

Fiorina garnered 2 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucus, 4 percent in the New Hampshire primary, then dropped out.

But Fiorina and Cruz are convinced it’s a move that can spur an upset in Indiana and halt Trump’s momentum.

“This thing isn’t over,” Fiorina told an Indianapolis TV station. “It isn’t over until Donald Trump gets 1,237 delegates, the majority of the delegates in the Republican Party, and he hasn’t gotten that number. And he’s not going to get that number.”

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