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Cruz talks up an RNC rule that would keep Kasich out of the convention

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks to guests at a town hall event called "Women for Cruz" Coalition Rollout with wife Heidi, mother Eleanor Cruz, and former Republican candidate Carly Fiorina, March 30 in Madison, Wis. (Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

With growing confidence about a big potential win in Wisconsin, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is trying to discredit Ohio Gov. John Kasich's campaign before it gets to more favorable ground.

In interviews this week, Cruz has repeatedly invoked the RNC's rule 40b, which allows candidates to be nominated only if they've won total delegate majorities in eight states or more. That rule, hastily written in 2012 after then-Rep. Ron Paul of Texas nearly grabbed enough wins to be nominated, is now favored by allies of both Cruz and Donald Trump as a way of making Kasich — or any establishment "savior" — irrelevant.

"I think that would be a terrible idea for the Washington power brokers to change the rules, because they’re unhappy with the candidates who the voters are voting for," Cruz told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday. "It was the Washington establishment that put this rule in place. So now when the Washington establishment candidates are losing, they want to change the rules to try to parachute in some candidate who hasn’t earned the votes of the people. That is nothing short of crazy."

In praise of Anderson Cooper’s cut-the-crap interviews with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz

Hewitt was following up on what Cruz told CNN's Anderson Cooper at this week's televised "town halls" in Milwaukee. With close to 3 million viewers watching, Cruz flatly stated that it was "against the rules for John Kasich to be on the ballot" and that "if no one has 1,237, you have to have won at least eight states."

That was a slight mangling of the rule, though it went uncorrected onstage. In rule 40b, it is not enough for a candidate to have won the popular vote in eight states. He must have won a majority of pledged delegates — something tied to the seemingly capricious standards of each primary.

Trump has crossed that threshold. Cruz has not. He has won in nine states, but in three — Alaska, Iowa, and Oklahoma — he won only pluralities of delegates. Even if he won Wisconsin, current polling in upcoming states suggests that Cruz may not meet the 40b standard until May's contests in states such as Indiana and Nebraska.

Kasich pans Trump saying, presidents "don't get do-overs." (Video: Reuters)

But Kasich, who is optimistic about winning states later in April, would struggle to win outright majorities in eight of them. By insisting that rule 40b is immutable, Cruz is signaling to later-state voters that any Kasich victories would be nullified by the convention, raising the possibility of a sitting governor of Ohio being kept from the table at a nominating contest in Cleveland.

To ensure that, Cruz and Trump need the 112-member rules committee, which will meet before the convention, to be pledged to the old rule. In interviews with Politico's Kyle Cheney, four early-appointed members of the committee said adamantly that the rule could change. "It was designed to prevent Ron Paul delegates — their votes from being counted," said David Wheeler, a committee member from South Dakota. "I don’t think it’s necessary to do that this year.”

But people in Trump's delegate-chasing operation say that its desired rules committee candidates will all stick to rule 40b. Cruz said as much on the record to Hewitt, imagining a ballot with only two names on it, and the "establishment" forced to choose between him and Trump.

"I think the delegates are naturally going to know that rules changes designed to subvert the will of the voters are a bad idea," he explained. "And I would expect the delegates who were elected supporting me would have that thought. But I would also expect the delegates supporting Donald Trump would have that thought, that we need to respect the will of the voters ... there are only two candidates who are going to meet that threshold, Donald Trump and me."

Ted Cruz exits the presidential race

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks with his wife, Heidi, by his side during a primary night campaign event, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Indianapolis. Cruz ended his presidential campaign, eliminating the biggest impediment to Donald Trump's march to the Republican nomination. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)