01:56 - Source: CNN
Trump slams Cruz and Kasich over delegates pact

Story highlights

The John Kasich campaign and the Ted Cruz campaign chose to coordinate campaigning efforts to stop Donald Trump

Talks led by Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe and Kasich chief strategist John Weaver were blessed by both candidates

CNN  — 

Ted Cruz and John Kasich camped out just a few conference rooms apart from one another at the posh Diplomat resort in Hollywood, Florida, last Wednesday, each deploying a lobbying blitz in an effort to get Republican National Committee members and state party leaders to back their bids to defeat Donald Trump.

Their top advisers met, too — with one another.

It was a meeting that would put an end to weeks of entreaties, rejections and consideration. A meeting that would finally hammer out the details of a deal meant to upend the GOP presidential race by dividing up their efforts in three primary states to create one-on-one races versus Trump. Kasich pulled out of Indiana; Cruz is leaving New Mexico and Oregon.

The talks led by Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe and Kasich chief strategist John Weaver were blessed by both and the final details were agreed to by the candidates, according to officials with direct knowledge of both campaign operations. It was a plan also lauded by the cash-rich outside groups seeking to stop Trump joined with some individuals supporters in calling for even more robust action.

“Now I believe Cruz and Kasich should make it official and make him the VP candidate to Cruz,” Cruz megadonor Doug Deason said, adding that he’d pitched the idea to the campaign. “He needs to get out of the race but this plan is better than no plan! They should definitely join forces at the convention with Kasich as vice president.”

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The tenuous nature of the deal struck by the campaigns should have been evident by the involvement of the candidates themselves: virtually non-existent. Cruz and Kasich never spoke personally as their tacit alliance was hatched and less than 24 hours after a deal to strategically split up future primaries was reached, it was clear both were still struggling with what they’d actually signed up for. It’s difficult to switch from the heated attacks of recent weeks and animosity between the two camps, to a kind of détente.

The deal, unveiled in press releases late Sunday night and discussed at rallies and TV appearances all day Monday, has already seen its bumps. Trump blasted it as “collusion.” Kasich said he isn’t asking people not to vote for him in Indiana. And pro-Cruz super PACs aren’t pulling their anti-Kasich ads. Both campaigns scrambled to change schedules — Kasich planned to campaign in Indiana all day Tuesday — and ratchet back their operations. Just one night prior to the announcement, over 200 unknowing Cruz volunteers were enjoying a party in Salem to launch their statewide operation — one that would become effectively defunct 24 hours later.”

Aides in both campaigns struggled to lay out exactly what their new normal looked like as they get their heads around the fact they’re, for all intents and purposes, in cahoots with a competitor. And more may be on the way. A Kasich adviser said conversations about how to split up the all-important congressional districts in California’s June 7 primary are in the works.

But the arrangement, while perhaps politically and tactically necessary (helps both save money and resources, for one thing), feeds quite nicely into the narrative that Trump, the GOP front-runner and target of the alliance, has built around the Republican party’s delegate system.

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“Collusion” was the word Trump repeatedly tossed out throughout his three-event day on the campaign trail.

The public nature of the announcement was problematic enough, one Cruz adviser acknowledged, yet it was crucial for a major reason: it was the only way outside groups supporting the two candidates would know to shift their attacks.

Solidified after a Sunday phone call between Weaver and Roe, statements describing the deal from each campaign hit inboxes nine minutes apart. Detailed talking points were sent to surrogates of both candidates and, for the most part, aides in both camps refused to delve into the tick-tock details of how it all came to be.

As predictably sharp – and relentless – as Trump’s attacks were about the deal, Kasich and Cruz bordering on awkward at times, as they spent most of the day attempting to dodge what exactly the pact actually means – or required of their supporters.

Kasich, asked if the deal meant his supporters in Indiana should vote for Cruz, said no. “I never told them not to vote for me,” Kasich said. “They should vote for me.”

Cruz, at an ice cream shop with his two daughters in Columbus, Indiana, chose to say this when asked about what he expected from his supporters in Oregon and New Mexico – two states his campaign said he’d ceded to Kasich.

“You know, my focus right now is on the state of Indiana. On earning votes here in the state of Indiana,” he said. “We are barnstorming the state, we are on a bus tour. I’m here with my daughters Caroline and Catherine, we are about to get ice cream. Which makes them very happy. There are some things lousy about daddy running for president but getting a chance to go to an ice cream store is not one of them.”

RELATED: John Kasich: It’s Donald Trump who’s desperate, not me

At an event earlier in the day, he made a concerted effort to mischievously note that it was “big news today that John Kasich has decided to pull out of Indiana,” yet again dodged specifics of the New Mexico and Oregon aspects of the deal.

It was an inauspicious start for a deal that many in the anti-Trump movement had been calling on the candidates to put into place for weeks. It was also something Weaver, Kasich’s top aide, had been pushing to lock in for weeks with limited traction. That changed after the Trump’s New York wipe-out of Cruz, according to aides with both campaigns.

In the end, Kasich’s operation would agree to pull out of Indiana – something the team considered more palatable because of what they deemed as a successful effort to get supporters elected to the state’s delegate slate the week prior. Roe and Cruz had made clear in public and private that Indiana would represent their major stand against Cruz. “Indiana is critically important,” Cruz said Monday.

Super PACs asking questions

Yet the candidates – two individuals aides on both sides acknowledge have the ability to do, and say, what they want, regardless of the best laid plans of their advisers – weren’t the only ones with shifting interpretations of the new block-Trump landscape.

Trusted Leadership PAC, a pro-Cruz super PAC, said it planned to continue airing a Kasich attack ad in Indiana, even as it “shelved advertising plans in New Mexico and Oregon,” Kellyanne Conway, the group’s director of research and media outreach, said in a statement.

The Club for Growth, the powerful Washington conservative group who has endorsed Cruz and attacked Kasich as a proxy for Trump in past states, said it would keep its own anti-Kasich ads up in Indiana, according to the group’s spokesman, saying they were in the spirit of the agreement.

In other words, it’s a deal that still has a few kinks to work out – and limited time to do it. Trump is expected to secure a lion’s share of the 172 delegates up for grabs in Tuesday’s five Northeast and Mid-Atlantic primaries. At least one person involved appeared to think it was all pretty simple.

“I’m not campaigning in Indiana and he’s not campaigning in these other states,” Kasich told reporters. “It’s not a big deal. But it’s fun though.”

He concluded: “I’m having the time of my life.”

CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.