It’s widely understood at this point in the Republican primary that Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s only route to the nomination is through a contested convention in Cleveland in July. And on paper, that looks like a possible, though unlikely, path to victory.
A 20-year veteran of Congress and a twice-elected governor, Kasich is far and away the most qualified candidate remaining in the GOP race in terms of experience. He’s also a palatable alternative to many in the GOP who can’t stand either frontrunner Donald Trump or his closest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. It’s easy to imagine a situation where a majority of disaffected voters rally to Kasich.
But one thing people tend to forget is exactly what would have to happen in order for Kasich to have a chance to make his case at a convention – and what that would mean for the Ohio governor’s candidacy.
If he steps onto the stage under circumstances where his nomination is even possible, Kasich will probably be doing it with the second-largest city in his state wracked by massive protests, at best, and violent confrontations at worst.
Here’s why: Barring a miracle, Trump will roll into the convention with a plurality of delegates, if not an outright majority. If Trump is denied a first ballot nomination, either through a failure to win a clear majority, or through manipulation of the rules to reduce his delegate support, there will almost certainly be a lot of angry Trump supporters ready to make trouble.
Trump himself has suggested that there will be “riots” if he is denied the nomination under questionable circumstances. (And in Trumpworld, “questionable” includes The Donald failing to gain a majority, and then losing when delegates are freed to vote their conscience.)
And bear in mind that Cleveland is already something close to a powder keg.
The city has been rattled by events such as the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy, who was killed in 2014 by a police officer while he held a toy handgun. Despite shooting Rice less than two seconds after arriving at the scene and then failing to provide first aid, the officer was not charged with a crime.
In addition, the city’s police force is operating under a consent decree with the Department of Justice after finding a pattern of excessive use of force – largely employed against the city’s minority community.
The math isn’t complicated. If Kasich has a chance in July, it will be under circumstances that put Trump protesters supporting a candidate broadly viewed as a bigot, and counter protesters, highly attuned to demonstrable racial injustice, head-to-head in the streets of Cleveland.
It will be…problematic…for the governor of Ohio to take the stage at the Republican convention and call for the party to rally behind him if the second-largest city in his state is in flames just outside the doors of the convention hall.
That said, some experts think that even ugly protests probably won’t cost Kasich too much support.
“I doubt reasonable people will blame Kasich for violence outside the arena,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “It’s Trump versus #NeverTrump,” he said, referring t a movement within the GOP to resist Trump’s candidacy.
“If Trump is nominated, then the anti-Trump forces massed outside the arena will do their thing, and sadly, violence will likely be part of it. If Trump is denied the GOP nomination due to convention maneuvering, then the Trump forces massed outside the arena will do their thing, and sadly, violence will likely be part of it.
“Kasich may call out the National Guard, and Cleveland will certainly deploy its police force,” he said. “But blame them? Why? Unless the National Guard models its behavior on Kent State in 1970 or the Cleveland police mimic Chicago police in 1968.”
Kasich is a talented politician, and he may indeed be able to pull off a simultaneous convention-upset and riot-suppression effort. But if he does, it will have no obvious precedent in modern political history.