HUNTINGTON, N.Y. --- With confidence that has won over some stalwarts of the Republican Party establishment, Sen. Ted Cruz , R-Texas, has spent weeks insisting that no other candidate can surpass Donald Trump's delegate lead and win the presidential nomination outright.
"If you want to beat Donald Trump you've got to beat him at the ballot box," Cruz often says, "and our campaign is the only campaign that has demonstrated it can do that." The offer is simple: Either Cruz gets a clear chance to beat Trump outright, or the Republican National Convention devolves into hair-pulling chaos. The not-so-subtle implication is that this chaos would be the fault of Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio.
On the trail in New York, which votes in just 15 days, Kasich has settled on a rebuttal.
"He needs 102 percent of the delegates going forward," Kasich said of Cruz at a short press conference outside Theodore Roosevelt's old home on Long Island. "That means it's mathematically impossible. Isn't that interesting? And both Cruz and Trump are saying -- he's taking my voters! Cruz is saying 'he's taking my voters.' Trump is saying 'he's taking my voters.' Yeah, they're right. They're both right. I'm taking both of their voters, because we're going to continue to do well."
The very specific number, 102 percent, came straight from the Wall Street Journal -- and comes with an asterisk. In an analysis by reporter Reid Epstein, Cruz's path to victory depended on the support of technically unbound delegates who could be quietly counted on to back him.
"Cruz has been awarded 463 delegates and must take 102 percent of remaining bound delegates to reach 1,237," wrote Epstein, "though his campaign believes its total is higher because of private commitments made by unbound delegates and delegates now tied to candidates who have suspended their campaigns."
That was good enough for Kasich, who used the number again at a town hall meeting here, at a crowded and oversold music venue. "Cruz is now over 100 percent, and he needs more than 100 percent to be the nominee, okay? He was playing that on me, and now he's caught in his own trick bag, okay? So he can't get there, and neither can Trump."
In fact, there are alternative delegate counts that have Cruz still mathematically able to win the nomination outright. In Wisconsin, where polls give Cruz a decisive lead, it's possible that he could win all 42 delegates; a weak night might hold him to a still-strong 33 delegates. The hope of putting Cruz out of outright contention for the first ballot comes in New York, where 95 delegates wait to be assigned, and an average of polls collected by RealClearPolitics puts Trump 32 points ahead of the field. A result like that would end Cruz's ability to reach 1,237 in pledged delegates, unless a deal were worked out with a defeated candidate whose delegates are currently adrift.
Kasich, who returns to New York on Thursday after two days in Ohio, was jovial about his own chances of a New York surprise. For the second time Monday, he begged forgiveness for using a fork to eat a slice of pizza at Gino's in Howard Beach.
"If you just take one second with a fork on a scalding hot piece of pizza, you've got to overcome that!" said Kasich.