March 18, 2016
For Part One click here.
Our goal is to concoct a scenario where John Kasich not only has a purpose in the race, but can win enough additional states that he could make a semi-legitimate case for himself at the convention.
There’s no in between. Either he wins nowhere else, in which case he’s only a spoiler, potentially helping Trump more than Cruz depending on which voters pick him, or he starts winning regularly and gets taken seriously.
We covered the many conditions and bits of fortune he would require to start winning in the first episode. We now continue with a look at the May and June contests. At this point, Kasich has won Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. If you’re feeling extra generous, Rhode Island too, but probably not.
Indiana votes on May 3. You might think this is a good opportunity. It does share a border with Ohio. It’s not an easy target. Indiana is the most conservative state in the region. The only one to reliably vote GOP for the past hundred years or so.
Ohio leans red. Republicans can’t win without it. Indiana is red. Democrats only win it when they win almost everywhere. Barack Obama’s very narrow 2008 victory was the first for his team since LBJ in 1964.
Longtime Senator Richard Lugar was successfully primaried in his last re-election attempt. He’s the sort of reasonable Republican Kasich often sounds like. Trump and Cruz will go all in here too.
As of mid-March, Cruz has zero victories east of the Mississippi. It’s real hard to win a nomination if you lost every state in half of the country. Pennsylvania is a pretty good opportunity for him, Indiana very good.
Kasich has no chance here without momentum, no chance of a productive convention without winning it. Unlike Wisconsin and the April 26 states, he doesn’t have weeks to dig in and win people over.
If he diverts to Indiana ahead of April 26, he won’t win the states he needs to on that day. He can drop in once every 10 days or so between now and the 26th, and then just needs to hope he got enough of a bounce from PA/MD/DE to surge forward on primary day and win very narrowly, as the candidates divide the electorate three ways.
Kasich did do well in the Ohio counties bordering Indiana. For all of the desire for a more conservative Republican, the candidate who defeated Lugar lost in the general election. Many Indianans are wary of selecting a candidate who would likely lose in November.
West Virginia and Nebraska vote on May 10. Trump could shoot ten people dead in the middle of 5th Avenue and win West Virginia. It’s quite possibly the Trumpiest state in the Union. No sense in Kasich spending one second there.
Nebraska likely favors Cruz. Popular new Senator Ben Sasse, a prominent #NeverTrump member, is pretty ideologically in synch with Ted. Unless he and other respected Nebraskans indicate they think Kasich is a better bet to stop Trump, Kasich might want to pass here too.
It depends on how Indiana goes. If Kasich gets to 40% there, and Cruz finishes third, it’s worth a late push. In our scenario, Cruz would have zero victories since March 22. Kasich would have 5 or 6, Trump 2 or 3.
For all the talk about Kasich being mathematically eliminated, that’s only true if he remains the third place choice going forward. If he enters the convention having taken the most states and the most delegates since the field narrowed to three, he has a case for being chosen.
So Nebraska is like Rhode Island. Nice if he wins it, worth a chance if the opportunity presents itself, but not a reason to risk a more important target. If Kasich did get this one, it would effectively knock Cruz out.
The remaining targets are Oregon (5/17), Washington (5/24), and California (6/7). I can’t fathom Kasich losing Oregon or Washington if he’s still a viable candidate. Those states have his name on them.
It’s not worth risking either by spending too much time in Nebraska, but if his momentum is building enough it’s plenty safe. Back in the era where primaries were a part, but nowhere near all of the process, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Oregon, and California all made an impact in various contests.
That was multiple generations ago, but states have an institutional memory. We know older voters turn out most frequently, and those in their 60s, 70s, or older will remember the role these historic contests played. It’s a subtle thing, but will favor Kasich as he tries to rally the anti-Trump forces around him.
The other reason Kasich needs to find the Left Coast as early as possible in the process is prep time for California. He needs more than the two weeks between the Washington and Golden State voting dates. Californians are very prone to vote absentee.
If he waits until late May to make his case, it’s too late. The minute Indiana is done, he needs to start California dreaming. Trump may play very well with some Southern California GOP voters. He and Cruz have an edge on Kasich in the Central Valley.
Kasich has a huge advantage in the heavily Democratic congressional districts up North. Trump is too politically incorrect for these areas, even among Republicans. Kasich can pick up plenty of delegates from the district-take-all apportionment, but needs to pick his spots elsewhere to win the state overall.
New Jersey, Montana, South Dakota and New Mexico vote on the same day. Trump is a clear favorite in the Garden State, Cruz in South Dakota and probably Montana. I’m not going to pretend to understand how GOP voters in New Mexico think. Their primary has never mattered.
It’s closed, so a viable Cruz probably has an edge. Perhaps border proximity helps Trump. Popular Governor Susana Martinez endorsed Rubio. Does she shift to Cruz? Does it matter?
If Kasich can steal a state besides California, it would help, but that’s the big prize. By winning all three Pacific Coast states, he would wind up with the most states and most delegates post-March 15.
It’s probably the most he can even barely reasonably expect.
If Kasich somehow won Rhode Island, Nebraska, Montana, and New Mexico, he’d have a really good chance at the nomination. Cruz would have very few victories over the final two months, and might well settle for passing Kasich his delegates for a spot on the ticket.
If the above states mostly go to Cruz, he and Kasich are far more evenly balanced, and Cruz would have more delegates overall. In either scenario, Trump’s delegate haul is shy enough of 1237, that he would have a difficult time building a narrative he should get the nod just because he has a plurality. He’d likely sit somewhere near 1000-1050.
This is what Kasich is thinking, it’s what his plan is based on. Can he do it? That’s a whole other matter. A Wisconsin victory and I become, if not a believer, at least willing to entertain the thought.
Easier said than done. Should it happen, we’ll track his progress against the scenario here. I did the same thing for Bernie back in January. He missed in Nevada, which made the rest of it way more difficult. That’s the equivalent of Wisconsin here.
The Michigan win gave him a final thread of hope. Yesterday extinguished it. It’s a reminder of how tough an underdog path is. However, a few more votes in Illinois and Missouri, and Bernie would find himself still alive. He didn’t miss by that much either.