April 19, 2016
For all of the Only in 2016 events so far, the 17 original GOP contenders, strong possibility of the first contested convention in 40 years, chance of the first multi-ballot convention since 1952, the Trumping of the race, Bernie’s political revolution, yada, yada, yada, the most unique feature is John Kasich.
We’ve seen insurgent liberal/progressives make a dent in Democratic primaries by appealing to younger voters. Ross Perot wasn’t exactly Trump, but he led three-way polling against a sitting president and Bill Clinton in the spring of 1992. Businessman Wendell Willkie grabbed the GOP nomination in 1940.
There’s only one Donald, but we’ve seen elements of his act before. If Huey Long had access to Twitter, there’s no telling what he might have done back in the 1930s. George Wallace did far better in the 1972 Democratic primaries than many care to remember.
Whether you think he’s more like previous candidates from the world of business, or Southern demagogues of yore, or some combination, there are at least a few historical breadcrumbs to follow.
Hillary Clinton is following in the footsteps of many establishment favorites in both parties who have paid their dues but are unable to inspire the electorate. From Walter Mondale to Bob Dole, we’ve seen this before.
Marco Rubio wasn’t ready yet or didn’t play his cards correctly, or both. It happens. Maybe he recovers, maybe he’s a historical footnote. Republicans do not nominate young, charismatic presidential candidates.
The only GOP president who fit that description was Teddy Roosevelt, and he required a political boss wanting to get him out of New York to wind up on the ticket and an assassin to put him in the White House. A Rubio nomination would have made history. Falling short makes sense.
Ted Cruz is very conservative. So was Barry Goldwater. People don’t hesitate to make the comparison. Ted Cruz isn’t overly likeable. Neither was Richard Nixon. He’s similarly old beyond his years. Cruz shares his strategic skills. From 1960 to 1972, Republicans nominated Nixon or Goldwater for 4 straight elections.
The one thing we’ve never seen before is Kasich. States began holding primaries over 100 years ago. Until 1972, the majority of delegates were chosen outside of open primaries or caucuses, but they’ve impacted the nomination process since 1912.
Between 1912 and 1968, several candidates were nominated despite skipping most or all of the available primary elections. Several candidates did best in the primaries but failed to win the nomination. No candidates were virtually swept in the contests they participated in but managed to stick around.
The closest example is from 1912. Needing to go back 104 years to give you a flawed analogy is already an indicator we’re in uncharted waters. Ex-President Roosevelt challenged current President Taft in several contests.
Teddy won 8 times, Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin twice, and Taft only once. Roosevelt even won Taft’s home state of Ohio. That looked pretty bad. Imagine President Obama losing Illinois if Bill Clinton was constitutionally allowed to make a comeback in 2012.
You would question Obama’s strength, but would also understand how he could repeatedly lose to a popular two-term president. Incumbent presidents tend to control the party apparatus, so Taft won a very contentious convention.
Again, if you put this in modern terms, and pretended most states did not have open primaries in 2012, it’s easy to see Obama defeating Bill in a brutal convention battle. If Clinton had then gone on to run as a third party candidate, doing better than Obama but finishing a distant third to Mitt Romney, you’d have an exact replay of 1912.
Kasich is not a sitting president with much of the party apparatus in his pocket. While he won his home state, he’s now failed to win over 30 contests, not 11. He’s only finished second a few times. New Hampshire, Vermont, D.C., Utah.
Rubio beat him in Arizona after dropping out of the race (early voting helped, but still…) Rubio still has more delegates. Unless Kasich makes some progress in Maryland and/or Pennsylvania, it’s possible after the April 26 primaries, Rubio will still have more delegates.
We could go on like this all day. Kasich was supposed to thrive in the Midwest. When most contests were in the South, he said wait until we get back on my home turf. After spending more time in Michigan (which borders Ohio) than any of his opponents, he finished third.
Illinois tends to prefer relatively moderate Republicans. Kasich finished third. Back on Super Tuesday, he finished fifth out of five in Minnesota. He was eighth in Iowa. Kentucky borders Ohio. Fourth out of four. He was competitive in the counties right on the border, but didn’t win them.
Pennsylvania borders Ohio too. Kasich was born there and frequently talks about growing up in McKees Rocks outside of Pittsburgh. Some polls have him second, others are showing him third. All taken in the past couple/few weeks have him trailing Trump by double digits, often 20+ points.
How does this candidate still exist? He may fail to win a single congressional district in New York. After the Midwest thing didn’t work, the strategy/justification dying a painful death when he failed to crack 15% in Wisconsin, the Northeast became a focus.
Surely he’d find open arms in a part of the country generally opposed to Cruz. Not yet at least. If polls are accurate, he’ll narrowly defeat Cruz for second in the Empire State, the place Cruz spent the Iowa caucus season campaigning against.
Kasich is determinedly not projecting victory in any particular state. He said he’d need a strong finish in New Hampshire to continue and treated his distant second as a victory. He said winning Ohio was a must. Beyond that, he’s resolutely refused to claim any particular state was a must-win or true test of his strength.
He’s not willing to say he needs to win any additional states to compete at the convention, though he also won’t say he’s planning on getting shut out for the duration. Taken at face value, a candidate is saying he should get nominated even if he loses all but his home state.
Unsurprisingly, it’s turned him into something of a joke, the equivalent of the Washington Generals arguing they and not the Harlem Globetrotters should challenge the NBA champions, because the Trotters’ flamboyant style of play wouldn’t hold up in a properly refereed game.
But he’s absolutely correct to hang in. If he cared what anyone else thinks, he would have exited long ago. Ohio voters seem very content with watching their governor cross-cross the country instead of hanging out with them. This isn’t Chris Christie.
He’s already well into his 60s, forty years after he worked the floor for Ronald Reagan at the 1976 convention, more than thirty years after being elected to Congress. I believe him when he says he’s not running for Veep. It’s not his style. Make a list of top 2020 contenders if Hillary wins. Is Kasich on it?
This is his shot. Worst case, he can try to leverage his delegates at the convention. Yes, it’s convenient for him to say neither Trump or Cruz can win a general election. He probably really believes this. The betting markets sure think they’d struggle. So do most journalists or insiders of any stripe. It’s not exactly a delusion.
You can see why someone with his background and experience would think neither Trump nor Cruz were suited to hold the office. If you don’t think either can win, and aren’t confident either would do a good job if elected, why exactly would you worry about playing spoiler? What great political future is he trying to protect?
This isn’t that different from what Rubio attempted. He was running a higher-profile campaign and has a more promising future, so he couldn’t continue indefinitely. Also, most importantly, he lost Florida.
The most important thing going for Kasich is being undespised. Voters like Bernie more than not, but Hillary has a hammerlock on the nomination (unless the polls are way off and he pulls an upset today, at which point he’s just a big underdog.)
If you look at polling, delegate count, insider opinion, betting markets, probably even astrology charts, the three people most likely to win nomination are Clinton, Trump, and Cruz. On average, Cruz is the least unpopular of the trio. Only about a third of Americans view him favorably, but unlike the other two, a mere half the country doesn’t like him. There are still some voters who haven’t made up their mind.
At this time in 1992, Bill Clinton was still upside down in the court of public opinion, but had better numbers and was less well-known than Cruz is today. To the best of my knowledge, nobody with Ted’s poll numbers in the spring of an election year went on to win in the fall. Reagan was shaky in 1980, but more liked than Cruz.
Again, Cruz is the MOST popular of the three. If the election is Hillary v. Trump or Cruz, voters who dislike both choices will determine the winner. This is why Kasich keeps rambling on about his suitability. Welcome to an election nobody can win.
Despite what you may hear from him, or the moderate Republicans, Democrats or Independents you may associate with, Kasich isn’t actually popular. At least not yet. He’s not unpopular. A third of the country likes him, a sixth of the country doesn’t and the rest don’t know or care yet.
Many think he would fade with more coverage. Perhaps. Nobody has a spotless record, especially after several decades in office. On the other hand, most Americans think he’s a bit of a loser at the moment. Perhaps winning another state or getting nominated would balance out the extra scrutiny. We don’t know.
We only know that Bernie seems blocked, and the others are somewhere between loathed and “I’d rather vote for Satan.” Paul Ryan is seemingly determined not to jump in, and it’s a hard sell anyway.
While it’s certainly possible Republicans could have another choice ride to Cleveland on a white horse, they would have less than four months to patch most of the party back together, deal with incredible media scrutiny, and build a campaign team.
Hey, Everyone Else Sucks Worse isn’t the most inspiring of campaign slogans, but it may yet get Kasich somewhere. Nominating him would break any and all precedent. He likes talking about Abraham Lincoln entering the 1860 convention third in delegates.
Abe didn’t get his ass kicked from sea to shining sea. But he was up against candidates voters actually thought well of. Kasich isn’t. Hillary Clinton is no Stephen A. Douglas (though she is taller than he was.) Ted Cruz isn’t William Seward. No team of rivals is going to include Donald Trump as a participant.
So here we are. The Kasich campaign is arguing a thirty point loss today will give them momentum heading into next week. The scariest thing is it might. What’s that saying about in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king…..
If Kasich finishes ahead of Cruz in the next 6 contests (NY, PA, MD, DE, CT, RI), even while trailing Trump, he’ll actually get some run. Whether he can capitalize on it is another matter. Refusing to quit was brilliant, but he’s not running a good campaign.
Does the most resistable of candidates make progress against the most moveable of leading contenders? Stay tuned.