In the midst of the media coverage of Donald Trump’s thirteen point loss to Ted Cruz, it was easy to ignore the cratering of John Kasich’s presidential campaign. He finished a distant third at fourteen percent of the vote.
Kasich is a right-of-center Governor of an industrial, mid-western, swing state whose ability to connect with Independents has powered his fledging campaign. If John Kasich were going to make a big move in the presidential race, it would be in Wisconsin, a mid-western swing state with an open primary that allowed Independents to vote.
Yet Kasich won 14% of the vote. The exit polls showed Kasich tying Ted Cruz for the moderate vote, with each getting 29% of the vote. Kasich won 17% of Independent voters, and only 12% of Republican voters. That’s an alarming statistic for Kasich because, between now and June, Rhode Island, Indiana, and West Virginia will be the only states Independents can vote in. The rest will be Republican-only events and Republicans voted overwhelmingly against Kasich.
Two things frustrated Kasich’s campaign in Wisconsin. First was his campaign’s lackluster fundraising which left it unable to compete in mass media ads, an ominous sign given the media markets that will soon vote include New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. Not having the funds of Ted Cruz or the ability to get free media like Donald Trump puts Kasich’s campaign at a disadvantage. Pennsylvania’s not New Hampshire. Kasich will not win the state or even perform well through grassroots campaigning.
Secondly, what may be the most troubling sign for Kasich is the anti-Trump vote consolidated, as evidenced by not only Cruz’s strong showing among moderates, but also his big win among the “somewhat conservative” voters who have eluded Cruz the entire campaign. If this becomes a national trend, it could spell doom for the Kasich campaign. There’s already signs that this may be happening in one must-win state for Kasich. His hopes to prove his viability beyond Ohio have depended on winning the Pennsylvania Primary and the seventeen delegates that go with it. A Franklin and Marshall college poll from mid-month showed Kasich three points behind Donald Trump, but in the two latest polls, Cruz has passed Kasich for second place. Keep in mind, both of those polls were taken before Wisconsin. Cruz could rise higher even higher based on momentum from Tuesday’s results.
I’ve written of Kasich’s improbable but still somewhat possible path to the nomination that could be achieved by having a superb month of April which would give him momentum to become the choice of anti-Trump voters in most of the final states. Wisconsin makes that improbable path nearly impossible, and Kasich needs to be prepared to re-evaluate his campaign.
I’m not saying he needs to get out right now. National Review’s Quin Hilyer makes the point that conservatives and Ted Cruz need Kasich to stay in the race through New York State. New York has fourteen at-large delegates, and delegates each assigned to the state’s twenty-seven Congressional districts. All of these are divided up proportionally by state or by district unless a candidate gets above 50 percent of the vote. A three-man race allows for the possibility Trump might be kept under half the vote statewide and that will certainly happen in many Congressional districts.
Without Kasich in the race, Trump probably takes ninety delegates from New York. With Kasich in the race, he may get as few as sixty-five or seventy. That plus Cruz is not personally well-liked among New York Republicans. A recent Quinnipiac poll shows his favorable ratings among New York Republicans at 44%. Maybe, Kasich could finish a strong second and revive his campaign, but that’d be pretty unlikely given his lack of money.
Kasich’s impact on the April 26th primaries, when five states vote, is far more debatable. On one hand, Connecticut and Rhode Island are states that Ted Cruz has no chance in and Kasich would doubtless deny Trump two or three delegates in Rhode Island. In Connecticut, he might succeed in holding Trump under fifty percent of the vote statewide which would require Trump to split the thirteen at-large delegates proportionally. At the same time, Kasich could split enough votes from Cruz to allow for Trump to triumph in Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, which are far bigger prizes. If Kasich fails to perform well in April, odds are the only state remaining that he’ll get delegates in is Oregon’s proportional mail-in primary.
This is why Kasich needs to carefully re-evaluate his campaign after New York. Kasich’s only chance is triumphing at a brokered convention where no one has a majority of delegates. Kasich continuing to campaign in and lose state after state doesn’t increase his odds of winning such a fight. Kasich is still twenty-seven delegates behind Marco Rubio, who suspended his campaign on March 15th and at this point Kasich is unlikely to catch Rubio.
His best chance of achieving his implausible dream is to follow in Rubio’s footsteps and suspend his campaign but retain his delegates. Another month of primaries with results like Wisconsin’s (or worse) will hardly set Kasich up as a white knight the party will rally around in Cleveland. More likely, he’ll end up shouldering a share of the blame should Trump triumph. Whether it’s after New York votes or the following Tuesday, for his own good and for the good of the party, if John Kasich can’t turn his campaign around soon, he needs to end it.