Ohio Gov. John Kasich will be playing spoiler on Tuesday when he tries to prevent Sen. Ted Cruz from scooping up all 40 delegates in Utah and narrowing Donald Trump’s lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Still riding high from his solid, favorite-son victory over Trump last Tuesday in the Ohio primary, the moderate conservative Kasich is trying to figure out how best to position himself for a long-shot bid for the GOP nomination in Cleveland this summer.
With many establishment Republicans including Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina now holding their noses and supporting Cruz as part of a “stop Trump at any cost” movement, Kasich is the fly in the ointment.
Cruz has beaten Trump more than a half dozen times so far in the 2016 primaries and caucuses and rightfully portrays himself as the best hope for derailing Trump. Kasich, meanwhile, will be hard pressed to find another state where he could actually carry a majority of votes this spring, as he did in Ohio.
But the former House Budget Committee chair and one-time investment banker desperately needs to somehow to build on his Ohio victory to make the case that he is electable — and can raise money — in a political season almost totally dominated by Trump and his populist, anti-immigration and anti-establishment messages.
“I don’t think there is a Kasich path that doesn’t involve [a brokered] convention,” said Nathan Gonzales, a political analyst with the Rothenberg-Gonzales Political Report.
Under current GOP party rules, Gonzales notes, candidates must win majorities in at least eight states in order to be considered in the first round of voting for the nomination at the national convention. Short of a change of rules or an absolute miracle, there’s no way Kasich will be able to overcome that hurdle.
“In order to stay relevant, he needs to stay in the race,” Gonzales said. “And for those Republicans who are complaining about Kasich’s role in Utah, even Cruz supporters might need Kasich [to slow Trump] in some of the New England and Northeast states to come.”
Kasich, 63, a late entrant in the campaign, has held himself out as a common-sense, highly experienced moderate conservative with a proven record of job creation and budget-balancing. While Trump, Cruz and others have engaged in some of the ugliest political theatrics seen in a long time, Kasich, the son of a McKees Rocks, Pa., mailman, stressed his optimism and a proven record for government problem-solving.
"Let me tell you, neither Cruz nor Trump can win the general election," Kasich said on NBC’s Today show the morning after his one and only victory. "They can't come in to Ohio with the philosophy they have and win. You can't win Ohio, you can't be president."
Kasich said he was determined to ride his campaign all the way to his party’s convention in mid-July because neither he nor the other two contenders is going to have the minimum votes to claim the nomination. Trump insists that he will have enough — or nearly enough — delegates, and he warned last week that there would be “riots” among his supporters if party leaders attempt to deny him his rightful due.
Trump currently leads the field of three candidates with 678 national delegates, more than halfway to the required 1,237, compared to 413 for Cruz and 143 for Kasich. There are still 1,059 delegates available.
Cruz — arguably the most reviled member of the Senate — insists that he is now the only one who realistically stands a chance of outright beating Trump. "A vote for John Kasich is a vote for Donald Trump," Cruz said Saturday while campaigning in Utah.
But in order to keep Trump from winning the nomnation, Cruz must gather together the broken shards of the GOP and win over Republicans who have long despised him for his arrogance and self-serving tactics. That’s why he has been engaged in serious fence-mending in recent days and has lined up a series of prominent endorsements to bolster his campaign.
Graham, who fell by the wayside in the presidential contest after losing to Trump in his home state of South Carolina, once said that choosing between Trump and Cruz was like choosing between poisoning or being shot. But on Thursday, Graham pledged his allegiance to Cruz because he found him far preferable to Trump’s menacing rhetoric and polices.
Then on Friday, Romney wrote on Facebook that he would vote for Cruz in Utah’s GOP caucuses Tuesday, while stopping short of giving the Texan a blanket endorsement. "Today, there is a contest between Trumpism and Republicanism,” wrote Romney. “Through the calculated statements of its leader, Trumpism has become associated with racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, vulgarity and, most recently, threats and violence. I am repulsed by each and every one of these.”
"The only path that remains to nominate a Republican rather than Mr. Trump is to have an open convention,” Romney added. “At this stage, the only way we can reach an open convention is for Senator Cruz to be successful in as many of the remaining nominating elections as possible — beginning with the potentially winner take all contest for Utah’s 40 national delegates.”
As for Kasich, Romney said that while he likes the governor and campaigned with him in Ohio last week, “A vote for Governor Kasich in future contests makes it extremely likely that Trumpism would prevail.” Others, like right-wing broadcaster Glenn Beck, who despises Trump as a pony conservative, had much stronger words for Kasich to get out of Cruz’s way.
“Kasich, I mean, excuse my language, but, you son of a bitch, the republic is at stake,” Beck said on his show last Wednesday. “This is not like a normal race. The republic is at stake.”
University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato said late last week that “Kasich won't be influenced by criticism from Cruz and his allies, but yes, he's probably making it easier for Trump to claim the nomination.”
“There are only three candidates left, and wild scenarios notwithstanding, one of them will be the nominee,” Sabato said. “Kasich just has to hang in there and hope the other two self-destruct. Not bloody likely, but it's a wild year.”