The Corner

Politics & Policy

Democrats Should Fear an Independent Kasich-Hickenlooper Ticket in 2020

From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Kasich-Hickenlooper. Try to Contain Your Enthusiasm.

Axios has an intriguing scoop this morning, although I have my doubts that it will come to fruition:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) — “the Johns,” as insiders are calling them — have been making a flurry of joint appearances to talk about state-driven improvements to health care.

But Axios has learned that their duet is part of an alliance that’s gaining momentum toward a possible joint independent bid for president in 2020, likely with Kasich at the top of the ticket.

Insert all appropriate caveats: It’s August 2017, and we have no idea what the state of the Trump presidency, the country, the economy, the world stage, etcetera, will be in 2020.

If you’re a vehement Trump foe, you want the anti-Trump vote split in as few ways as possible. Whether or not the Green Party re-nominates Jill Stein, there will be a Green Party nominee, and that nominee will almost certainly be insisting that the Democratic nominee is a sellout corporatist squish who will not bring about real change. The Libertarians will nominate someone touting limited government in the abstract, and some anti-Trump Republicans might drift in that direction. (Again, why would anti-Trump Republicans reward Kasich, one of the guys who played a key role in ensuring Trump won the nomination in 2016?)

So imagine a 2020 ballot that looks something like this:

GOP: Trump-Pence

Independent: Kasich-Hickenlooper.

Democrat: Kamala Harris-Sherrod Brown

Green: Winona LaDuke-William Kreml

Libertarian: Austin Peterson-John McAfee

It’s a lot easier for even a hobbled president with the advantages of incumbency to hold onto a plurality than a majority. Presume the Green and Libertarians amount to their usual 2 to 6 percent of the vote in most states. With Kasich and Hickenlooper running as an independent ticket, Trump and Pence just need to hold on to the largest slice of the remaining 95 percent or so, instead of needing close to half. The threshold of a win becomes the high 30s instead of close to 50 percent.

How confident should Democrats or the Kasich-Hickenlooper team be that they wouldn’t lose a bunch of 37-34-33 splits in key states? President Trump has had a really lousy run for a while, and his approval rating remains in the mid-to-upper 30s or low 40s. Assuming that’s his floor of support, that doesn’t look so bad in a three-way race.

Let’s not forget: Donald Trump was wildly outspent, went through three campaign managers, had a lot of his party stay away from the national convention in Cleveland, outsourced his ground game to the Republican National Committee, kept having disastrous news cycle after another and faced the raging enmity of the national political press throughout the race. And he managed to win 304 electoral votes (with two faithless electors). Now give him the advantage of incumbency (a Rose Garden campaign, etcetera) and recall we’ve reelected four of the last five presidents.

The mission for the Democratic nominee in 2020 is to win the states Hillary won and find another 38 electoral votes. For the sake of argument, assume the independent ticket headed by Kasich wins his home state of Ohio; this leaves Trump with 288 electoral votes, assuming he keeps all the rest of his 2016 states red. But Kasich winning Ohio would keep those 18 electoral votes out of the Democratic nominee’s pile, as well.  If Hickenlooper helps the independent ticket carry Colorado, that’s 9 electoral votes that the Democrat will have to make up elsewhere.

Axios reports, “Some establishment Dems are apoplectic about the idea of Hickenlooper teaming up with a Republican.” They probably should be.

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