Securing the 2016 GOP presidential nomination has always seemed unlikely for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. But even as the trail becomes ever-thinner, with frontrunner Donald Trump’s unexpected dominance and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz running an ever-closer second place, Kasich is clinging on, at least until voting comes home to Ohio.
Kasich struggled to stand out in an early-race overflow of governors and senators hawking damaged goods like “experience” and “governing ability,” which the party’s primary voters seem to regard about as highly as you would an aging Yugo on Craigslist with mileage creeping into the seven digits.
The free-for-all that was the early primary has since narrowed into a two-lane race between establishment candidates like Kasich and Rubio, along with more radical, unorthodox hopefuls like frontrunner reality TV star Donald Trump and Texas firebrand U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
But even though Kasich is among the last men standing, he’s been bruised and battered by the contest. He’s won zero primary states outright and has amassed just 54 delegates in primaries and caucuses so far. Compare that to Trump’s 458 delegates after his win in seven Super Tuesday states, two Super Saturday states and two states March 8, or to Cruz’s 359 delegates after he took Alaska, Texas and Oklahoma in the March 1 voting fusillade and Maine and Kansas March 5.
Trump’s continued success with GOP primary voters has thrown party leaders into a panic. The controversial real estate mogul has made a number of outrageous statements, calling Mexican immigrants rapists, calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants, quoting racist and fascist figures on social media and other actions that would spell political death for most candidates.
But Trump isn’t most candidates — he’s tapped into a well of anger among mostly white, mostly working class voters who are sick of perceived Washington elites. Some of these voters have pronounced white supremacist tendencies, something Trump has done little to distance himself from.Late last month, prominent Ku Klux Klan figure David Duke told followers they should consider voting for Trump. Confronted about this by reporters, Trump hedged on condemning Duke or the KKK.
Meanwhile, several of Trump’s campaign events have been marred by racial tensions. Security forces, including law enforcement officers, forced around 30 black students at Georgia’s Valdosta State University to leave a Trump event on campus. The group was silently protesting Trump and had not caused any disruption. At other events, including one March 1 in Louisville, people of color in attendance have reported assaults, racial slurs and other outright hostility.
Those incidents have made GOP party officials, afraid they will irreparably damage the party, desperate to find a way to topple Trump. But it’s becoming clear they don’t think Kasich’s candidacy is the way to do so.
Things don’t look great for the Republicans’ establishment lane in general, but especially for Kasich. That’s drawn more desperate focus from party leaders on Rubio, who has at least managed to muster 151 delegates so far. And as GOP bigwigs seize on Rubio , or even Cruz, as the last, best hope for traditional Republicans, many want Kasich to step aside.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is increasing pressure on Kasich to bow out of the race, Buzzfeed News reported March 2. And other Republican operatives with insider knowledge also say Kasich should hang it up.
“I’m sure Gov. Kasich is going to get some private calls, and if he doesn’t get out, those private calls will turn into public calls,” Ryan Williams, who worked for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and backed Jeb Bush before he dropped out of the primary last month, told the news site. “People should realize that a vote for Kasich at this point is a vote for Trump. It’s time for John Kasich to take a hint and read the handwriting on the wall.”
But Kasich is standing firm, promising to win his home state of Ohio, which casts ballots March 15.
“I am going to win Ohio. Plain and simple,” Kasich said at a campaign event in Detroit March 3. “That’s it!”
Kasich made a point of saying that the GOP has to “stop Trump,” and the way to do that is by fielding a candidate with experience and the ability to get things done. He has also predicted a lengthened fight all the way to the convention if his campaign takes Ohio’s 66 delegates. But Rubio can make many of the same arguments about his home state of Florida, where he’s expected to fight a bitter battle with Trump over the coming days ahead of the state’s March 15 primary. At stake there: 99 delegates Kasich has little hope of winning.
Despite the emerging consensus that Cruz or Rubio might be the GOP’s best bet for a non-Trump future, Kasich has remained confident, comparing Rubio to outdated soda pop.
“Sen. Rubio has been more hyped than Crystal Pepsi, but he has flopped even worse,” Kasich’s campaign said in a memo released after Super Tuesday.
Even in the states where he’s holding out hope, however, Kasich faces tall odds. Trump holds a 10-point lead in some polls out of Michigan. And other polls have Trump beating Kasich in Ohio by a slim margin, though others Kasich doing better in a general election there against either Democratic candidate, a fact his campaign has touted as he hustles to scoop up every possible advantage. ©