The GOP's Last, Best Hope to Stop Trump?
Policy + Politics

The GOP's Last, Best Hope to Stop Trump?


With Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida fading fast, Ohio Gov. John Kasich offers establishment Republicans their last, best hope of blocking Donald Trump’s ascension to the GOP presidential nomination – provided, of course, he can eke out a victory over Trump in tomorrow’s big contest in the Buckeye State.

The irrepressible governor and former House Budget Committee chair has been playing the optimistic Luke Skywalker to Trump’s dour Darth Vader, and so far Trump has been leaving Kasich in the dust. Kasich has yet to win a single primary or caucus, and if he fails again Tuesday he has made it clear he will drop out of the race. That would pretty much leave it to arch conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to carry on the fight against the billionaire businessman.

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Kasich has led Trump in Ohio by six points or more leading up to tomorrow’s winner-take-all contest. But a new Quinnipiac University poll out Monday shows Kasich and Trump tied at 38 percent each, with Cruz at third with 16 percent and Rubio at the bottom with 3 percent. Another survey out over the weekend by CBS News has Kasich and Trump tied at 33 percent apiece.

Rubio has been sinking in the polls since his ill-advised strategy two weeks back to get down in the gutter with Trump and exchange personal insults. Surveys over the weekend suggest that the one-time boy wonder of Florida politics could well finish third to Trump and Cruz in tomorrow’s Florida primary, all but putting his run to an end.

Kasich has everything riding on a clear-cut victory over Trump in Ohio – one that would justify to financial backers his remaining in the race and fighting to deny Trump the party’s nomination in mid-July in Cleveland. 

“I think [if] we win Tuesday, it’s a whole new ballgame,” Kasich said this weekend. “When we beat him, the shield is broken.”

With so much at stake, more traditional Republicans alarmed about Trump are pulling out the stops to try to push Kasich across the finish line in Ohio. This task seemed especially urgent to many after last Friday’s ugly clash between Trump supporters and Democratic protesters in Chicago that forced Trump to cancel a rally. Kasich, Cruz and Rubio all heavily blamed Trump for creating a divisive, violent political atmosphere conducive to this sort of explosive action.

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Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has joined other prominent Republicans in endorsing Kasich in the race. And former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney – the party’s 2012 presidential nominee who has denounced Trump as a threat to the party and the country – is campaigning against Trump in Ohio today.

The Cincinnati Enquirer in an editorial urged Ohio residents against voting for Trump, who over the weekend threatened to send some of his supporters to disrupt rallies for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in retaliation for protests at his own campaign events.

“No amount of grandstanding or bullying can return the economic security that so many in this country have lost over the past decade,” the newspaper’s editorial board declared. “Slogans and walls won’t fix the complex problems of our time.”

Trump in recent days has stepped up his criticism of Kasich, and canceled appearance in Florida to address two events in Ohio. During his Ohio rallies, Trump challenged Kasich’s claims of presiding over an economic miracle in Ohio, insisting that the governor simply “got lucky” through oil development. Trump also stepped up his populist attacks on international free trade agreements and noted Kasich’s support of the North American Free Trade Agreement of the 1990s and the new Pacific-rim Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Trump says these agreements have cost the U.S. millions of jobs and will continue to ruin the auto industry.

“It is a disaster,” Trump said on Saturday. “It’s going to ruin your car industry – totally ruin it.”

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Even if Kasich manages to pull out a victory on Tuesday, the delegate math working against him for the remainder of the campaign would be daunting at best. At present, Trump is leading the GOP pack with 460 delegates, to 370 for Cruz, 163 for Rubio and just 63 for Kasich. It will take at least 1,237 of the 2,472 available delegates to secure the GOP nomination.

Even if Kasich were to win all 66 of Ohio’s delegates and go on to run the table in practically all of the other remaining primary and caucus contests – which is highly unlikely to happen—he would still come up short of the 1,237 he would need to claim the nomination. The best that Kasich, Cruz and others will be able to do is deny Trump a first-ballot nomination at the convention and then slug it out for the nomination on subsequent ballots.

“He’s not going to be president,” Kasich said of Trump on Fox News Sunday. “He’s not going to have enough. I’m going to win here in Ohio with the support of folks here who have seen their lives improve. More jobs, better wages, more hope, more people who have been ignored, who are getting attention.”

“And that’s going to be the end of it,” he added. “He’s not going to get to be the president of the United States.”