Politics & Policy

The Insane Campaign of John Kasich

Kasich at a town hall meeting in Orem, Utah, March 18, 2016. (George Frey/Getty)

The GOP primary is a battle between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. This has been fairly obvious since at least Super Tuesday, and it is overwhelmingly obvious today.

The campaign of John Kasich is a joke, and not a particularly funny one, unless you like humor at the expense of the GOP and conservatism. Yet the media and GOP establishment has largely failed to call Kasich out. But with his embarrassing losses in Utah and Arizona yesterday (incredibly,  he lost the latter even to Rubio, who has been out of the race for a week now), it is long past time to throw Kasich’s campaign into the ash heap of history.

The media plays up Kasich’s candidacy for two reasons: First, Kasich has taken more-liberal positions during the campaign, and has criticized the tone and substance of more-conservative candidates. And the media love Republicans who criticize other Republicans from the left.

Second, the media know that, as Mitt Romney recently said, “A vote for Kasich is a vote for Trump.” The liberal media would love to have Trump as the nominee because he embodies their caricatures of Republicans, because he is entertaining copy, and, most important, because he will almost certainly deliver a victory to their preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton. While Cruz and Clinton are roughly in a dead heat in RealClearPolitics polling averages, Trump trails Clinton by a whopping ten points.

RELATED: Cruz Takes Utah, but Can’t Shake Rubio’s Ghost in Arizona Loss

While it is certainly possible that any GOP candidate could beat someone with Clinton’s obvious weaknesses, it seems far more likely that Trump would send the GOP down to an ignominious Mondale-style defeat which, when combined with Trump’s dissents from traditional GOP positions on a host of issues, will leave the party adrift and decimated. For the liberal media, this is a dream scenario: Great copy and a catastrophic Republican defeat that will ripple down the ballot to Congress and the state elections.  

But if the media’s motivations for promoting Kasich’s Potemkin campaign are obvious, it is harder to intuit the motivations of the GOP establishment other than to assume that their visceral distaste for Cruz has completely overwhelmed their ability to think rationally about their own interests or those of their party. They may feel that they have good reason to loathe Cruz, but it should be overwhelmingly clear to them that, if they care about conservatism or appealing to emerging demographics, or simply if they put any belief in polls, Cruz is infinitely preferable to Trump as a nominee and the continuation of Kasich’s campaign helps Trump.

Of course, more-liberal or establishment-oriented GOP voters are certainly entitled to prefer Kasich to Trump or Cruz and vote accordingly. But they must own the fact that they are not simply casting a symbolic protest vote à la Ron Paul voters in 2008 or 2012.  The practical consequences of their choice will make Trump the nominee. Not for nothing did National Review’s own Rich Lowry recently say that “Kasich is playing a selfish and delusional role.” 

#share#Let’s examine just how weak Kasich’s performance has been. He’s been under 5 percent in eleven contests and under 10 percent in eight additional contests. Out of 36 GOP contests, he has gotten more than 20 percent of the vote in only Vermont, D.C., Michigan, and his home state of Ohio. By contrast, Trump has been under 20 percent in only two states (Wyoming and Utah) and Cruz failed to break 20 percent in just six states. Overall Kasich has 19 contests in which he’s had a lower percentage than Cruz had in his worst state.

RELATED: Then There Was Kasich

The latest finance reports show the lack of enthusiasm for Kasich. Incredibly, he has raised even less small-donor money than Scott Walker, who campaigned for just two months and whose campaign ended six months ago, several months before the first vote was cast.  Kasich has zero grassroots support. He is simply attracting the hard-core GOP’s establishment/moderate remnant because all the remaining establishment/moderate choices, most with far more appeal than Kasich, have already sensibly withdrawn from the race.

Other than his home state of Ohio, by far Kasich’s best “state” was Washington, D.C., where he took 36 percent and came within a point of victory. Incredibly, political insiders, according to a recent survey by Politicostill feel that Kasich would be the most likely winner of a contested convention. This absurd analysis perhaps partially explains Kasich’s delusional campaign.

RELATED: Will Kasich Be the Decider?

Let’s be clear: The best possible realistic outcome for Republicans at this point is that Cruz beats Trump in a number of late contests and comes to the convention trailing Trump but in strong second with no candidate having secured a delegate majority. At that point, with momentum at his back and most of the non-Trump non-Cruz voters clearly in the anti-Trump camp, Cruz could realistically claim a victory at a contested convention (as Reagan almost did in 1976) under a process that would be seen by most impartial voters as legitimate (although, to be sure, Trump supporters would kick up a storm). 

The Kasich campaign’s notion that GOP delegates will ignore Trump and Cruz, and then anoint Kasich, who was decisively rejected by voters in the vast majority of GOP primaries, is literally nuts. It is possible that a Trump nomination would destroy the GOP, but an attempt by insiders to hand the nomination to Kasich over two candidates who decisively beat him at the polls would definitely destroy the GOP. The fact that this silliness is even being publicly entertained indicates that much of the establishment appears to be stuck in the “denial” stage of the grief process.

#related#For the GOP nomination right now, there are only two choices, Trump and Cruz. Anyone who believes otherwise, including Kasich and his enablers, is in fantasyland. Any action taken that does not help Cruz helps Trump. Any endorsement that does not go to Cruz is, de facto, an endorsement of Trump. Any candidate, such as Kasich, who takes votes or attention from Cruz, aids Trump.  

Right now, there are large numbers of political insiders and major GOP officeholders who are, through action or inaction, implicitly endorsing Trump. Perhaps for some of them, a Cruz candidacy and a Trump candidacy would be equally awful for the GOP and conservatism. Given their respective records, I find such a view profoundly mistaken. But regardless, they will own their decision come November and for many years to come. Conservatives should have long memories about how party leaders behave in the coming weeks, and they should demand party leaders do everything in their power to stop Kasich from trolling the Republican primary.

It is long past a time for choosing.

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