Brokered conventions are the stuff of political thrillers, reporters’ dreams, and old-fashioned history. We still may get one on the Republican side in 2016, and the campaigns are wise to prepare for the possibility, but they should not be anyone’s desired outcome two states into the process. Unfortunately, John Kasich’s campaign has mapped out a strategy that could make sense only if there’s going to be a brokered convention. Voters should not indulge him.
The next stops for Kasich are the primaries in New England. Vermont and Massachusetts, whose media markets at points overlap with New Hampshire, where Kasich practically lived for the past several months, both hold primaries on March 1. The Maine primary follows on March 5. Those around Kasich believe he can capitalize on his investment in New Hampshire with voters in those surrounding states…Virginia, also on March 1, could be an opening for Kasich…Still, Kasich’s biggest target other than his native Ohio remains Michigan, which will hold its primary on March 8. Kasich’s advisers have long said he could do well in the Midwest, which votes later in the calendar but is littered with winner-take-all states. Of those, Michigan, with its 59 delegates, comes first…
[I]t is Ohio, on March 15, that presents the biggest moment — and test — of his campaign. Kasich is wildly popular in his home state, and he has the loyalty of the Republican apparatus there. The expectation among Republicans both inside his circle and outside is that he will be favored to win. And if all goes as he hopes at home, he would next seek to consolidate support in the rest of the Midwest, starting with Illinois, which holds its primary the same day as Ohio.
Read the whole thing, which notes the huge holes in Kasich’s organization (he’s not even trying to win any of the next 18 states) and concludes that the endgame of this is for Kasich to hold enough delegates to “have major leverage in a contested convention.”
Say what you will about the strategy of Marco Rubio, or the parallel strategy that Jeb Bush was pursuing when he thought it might survive the early states: both planned around being the last non-Trump/non-Cruz standing, eventually amassing a large enough coalition to win. Maybe that strategy can win enough delegates to clinch the nomination without a contested convention, but it at least is designed to try, and failing that to go into the convention in or very close to the leads in both delegate count and popular vote – the essential conditions to strike a deal that leaves the party with a nominee whose legitimacy isn’t a complete farce.
Kasich’s stated strategy, however, doesn’t even pretend to be aimed at entering the convention in a position to win, reflecting the narrowness of his popular and geographic appeal and his pitiful fundraising. He is, instead, running as if this was a pre-1976 race, when regional candidates could use their leverage to demand platform concessions, patronage, or a VP spot. Even in those days, parties that selected nominees this way usually lost, although I suppose it’s worth noting that of the seven Presidents since 1868 selected by a brokered convention, three of them (Harding, Garfield and Hayes) were Ohio Republicans. The last candidate to try something like this was Tom Harkin, who took Iowa out of play in 1992 and scrambled the whole opening of the Democratic race. But at least that was at the beginning.
But where this strategy goes from appallingly self-centered to downright reckless is in its effect on the party’s ability to stop Donald Trump well before the convention. By leaching away votes from Marco Rubio and to a lesser extent Ted Cruz, Kasich even at 5-10% of the vote could end up swinging a fairly large number of delegates into the hands of Trump.
Nobody outside the Kasich campaign thinks Kasich has a path to the nomination. Apparently, nobody inside the Kasich campaign thinks Kasich has a path to the nomination, either. The stakes in 2016 are far too high to indulge a candidate whose only conceivable play is as a spoiler looking to be paid off.
Somewhere after South Carolina, once Jeb is out of the picture, Jesus is going to have to have a come-to-John-Kasich moment.