John Kasich is right about being a better general election candidate than Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. That’s why he should suspend his campaign immediately.
Let me explain.
Kasich has zero mathematical chance of winning the nomination outright without a contested convention. He currently has 143 delegates. Winning all of the remaining 1,059 delegates would leave him with 1,102 delegates — 135 delegates short of the 1,237 needed to win.
The Ohio governor’s odds of overtaking Trump, who has 678 delegates, for the lead are almost zero. His chances of overtaking Cruz, who has 413 delegates, for second place are exceedingly low. Doing either would require a complete resetting of the “zeitgeist” — or mood — of the race and a sudden, overwhelming and massive surge in support for Kasich. There is no sign of that happening.
What is far more likely is that by staying in the race we’ll see a continuation of the trend that has dominated the race so far: a shrinking field of candidates splitting the non-Trump vote amongst themselves. This is what was enabled Trump to rack up victories and delegates even though he’s only received 37 percent of the popular vote. Sean Trende crunches numbers here, while Michael Barone offers a similar analysis here. Anyone can run the numbers themselves with this handy tool.
By staying in the race we’ll see a continuation of the trend that has dominated the race so far: a shrinking field of candidates splitting the non-Trump vote amongst themselves. | Photo: AP
The psychology of the race is favorable to Trump at the moment. Trump keeps winning close contests. Meanwhile, Kasich feels emboldened by his win in Ohio and seems to believe Cruz is as bad as Trump. Again, Kasich is right that he has the stronger electability argument than either Cruz or Trump but Cruz, for all his flaws, would be a better general election candidate than Trump. The latest head to head match ups at RealClearPolitics show Kasich beating Clinton by 7.4 percent; Cruz winning by 0.8 percent; and Trump losing by 6.3 percent.
What’s dangerous is a Kasich surge itself — short of him becoming an unlikely overwhelming frontrunner — is far more likely to help Trump than Kasich. Pulling votes away from Cruz seals the deal for Donald. The greater the Kasich surge, the greater the vote splitting effect — and therefore the greater the odds of Trump locking up the nomination before the convention.
This snapshot of the Arizona race illustrates Kasich’s dilemma. Staying in the race hands Trump another victory while dropping out gives Cruz a fighting chance of winning. Kasich’s argument that Rubio voters will break for him three-to-one over Cruz took a hit when the most important Rubio supporter — Marco Rubio — said Cruz was the only conservative left in the race.
For Kasich and the country, the best option is to cash in his chips now and go to a contested convention with an electability argument. By staying in he risks losing any power he has to broker. For Kasich, the difference between 136 delegates and zero is far more consequential than the difference between 136 delegates and ending the race in second place behind Trump or in a stronger third place.
Kasich and his supporters should find comfort in the fact that the convention rules will essentially force a hard reset of the race if no one reaches 1,237. Anything can happen at that point. Republicans have been in this position before. In 1860, the candidate who was a distant second secured the nomination after three ballots. His name was Abraham Lincoln. In 2016, perhaps it will be Kasich.
For Cruz, persuading Kasich to drop out isn’t enough. He must also woo Kasich supporters who believe Cruz is as bad as Trump. For Cruz, humility is a matter of survival. In Arizona, for instance, Kasich dropping out doesn’t help Cruz unless those voters join his camp.
Favoring Cruz over Kasich doesn’t need to generate enthusiasm or joy. I like and respect Kasich very much. Though I disagreed with his Medicaid expansion, he has been an excellent governor and his outreach to minority voters is a model for our party. But for Republicans winter is coming and, with it, the cold logic of survival.
The greater the Kasich surge, the greater the vote splitting effect — and therefore the greater the odds of Trump locking up the nomination before the convention
I’ve argued forcefully that Cruz enabled the rise of Trump and that he should humble himself before voters and disavow his use of tactics that were designed to elevate him rather than conservatism. Cruz doesn’t need to “moderate” his positions or engage in a theatrical apology to his colleagues (though he should reconcile with them privately). He simply needs to be a better conservative. He needs to leave the French Revolutionary wing of the Tea Party and rejoin the American Revolutionary wing. That means embracing a constitutional conservatism that doesn’t equate principled compromise or incremental change with “selling out” or being a part of a “surrender caucus.”
There’s still time to stop Trump but hoping for a massive Kasich surge isn’t a reasonable option. The virtues of sacrifice and humility are the only weapons left in the fight to stop Trump.
John Hart is the Editor-in-Chief of Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @johnhart333.