What’s a career politician to do at the twilight of his term as governor? Run for president, of course!
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker realized early on that he had no path to ultimately winning the nomination, even though he had a path to “performing well,” he pulled out of the race and returned to his duties as governor. After all, there are no silver or bronze medals in politics, although Fox News does think bronze is the new gold for their chosen candidates.
John Kasich chose quite a different path. He decided to write off all of the early states (Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada) except for New Hampshire. He parked himself in New Hampshire for half a year, betting it all on the Granite State. He was consistently allowed to remain in the main debates despite his dismal performance because…New Hampshire would make him a star. Throughout the early part of the campaign he enjoyed an outsized share of attention from Fox News and it was always positive, if not fawning, coverage.
Kasich came in eighth in Iowa, garnering just 3,500 votes statewide. And despite betting the farm on New Hampshire, he came in a distant second, almost 20 points behind Donald Trump. In 2012, Jon Huntsman employed a similar New Hampshire-centric strategy and performed roughly the same. He dropped out the next day because he realized that he had no path to creating any momentum for a national candidacy. Kasich, on the other hand, buoyed by Fox News hype, acted as if a distant second place in his best state was a victory.
At that point, Kasich publicly rationalized his decision to remain in the race in order to win his home state, Ohio, and compete in Michigan. This essentially gave him a pass from the media to completely write off Super Tuesday and the entire first half of the calendar. Kasich came in a distant fifth in South Carolina, essentially tied with the comatose candidacy of Ben Carson. He came in dead last in Nevada and either fourth or last place in almost every remaining state except for his second place finish in tiny, liberal Vermont. Despite consistently garnering less than 5% of the vote, Kasich was allowed in every debate, even though he wrote off the states being contested those weeks.
Meanwhile, as every other candidate competed across the map, Kasich once again ‘played a New Hampshire’ by parking himself in Michigan. Now with Rubio collapsing, Kasich is seeing his support rise throughout the Midwest. He has no path to winning nationally and only has 37 delegates. He only has a path to playing spoiler in the remaining Midwest states. Kasich is not approaching this “surge to spoiler status” from a position of strength, but rather from a position of weakness. It’s precisely because he was so weak and irrelevant that nobody bothered to lay a glove on him and expose his extreme liberal record on some of the most critical issues of our time.
Quite the contrary, Kasich gets to exude loads of sanctimony at every debate and appear as the man who is above all the bickering. Because he has no intention of winning, indeed he cannot come close to victory, the Ohio Governor doesn’t “need” to attack Trump and risk getting demolished. All he needs to do is look pretty, and with Rubio likely exiting the race in the near future, garner half the establishment vote and play spoiler for a convention.
Headed forward, it has become evident that Trump has hit a brick wall of 35% in most states. Ted Cruz can defeat him in every remaining state. According to a new Washington Post-ABC poll, Cruz would beat Trump by 14 points nationally in a hypothetical two-man race, and as we’ve noted before, the reality of a two-man race would likely work in Cruz’s favor even more than a theoretical poll suggests.
Had Kasich gotten out of the race, as any serious individual in his predicament would have done a long time ago, Cruz could beat Trump in Ohio. But as a sitting governor, Kasich will lock up the Buckeye State and the media will promote that as some major accomplishment.
This is a complete vanity. Even if Kasich wins Michigan tonight, he’ll only get about 23 delegates. Kasich has no path for the remainder of the campaign to receive anything more than 250 delegates in total. Yet, he is openly saying he will stay in to play interference at the convention and the media is not asking him any tough questions about his motivations.
Cruz, on the other hand, has a path to 1237 and certainly a path to beating Trump in a plurality. And this assumes Trump wins Florida and Kasich wins Ohio, outcomes that likely would never occur had Rubio and Kasich exited the race. Cruz has a tremendous amount of money and his recent successes have resulted in his best single day fundraising haul of the campaign. He is competitive across the Midwest despite not having advertised and campaigned there yet (after all, he was busy competing in the other states while Kasich wrote them off). If Kasich remains in the race, the Ohio Governor won’t get more than 250 delegates but he can easily garner 25-30% in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. These are critical winner-take-all states that Cruz can and must win, but will go to Trump if Kasich divides the anti-Trump vote.
Today’s Illinois poll from the Chicago Tribune demonstrates this problem. Trump only has 32% in Illinois and there is a week left to beat him in this critical winner-take-most state. The internal numbers of the poll show, as national polls demonstrate, that almost all of the support from the other candidates is dead set against Trump. Cruz could easily win this state, but Kasich is playing spoiler (assuming Rubio collapses in the coming week).
What a tragedy it would be to have the conservative movement destroyed and lose the opportunity to elect a Reagan conservative all because of a liberal vanity candidate who wasn’t talented enough to run in the Democrat primary.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.