After South Carolina Republicans voted on Saturday, the GOP primary essentially became a three-man race. Now the party just needs to convince the other two men to drop out. Snatching the nomination from Donald Trump may not be easy for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, but Jeb Bush’s exit was enough to make many Republicans openly declare that John Kasich and Ben Carson are finished.
While Cruz spent the past two days dealing with allegations about “dirty tricks,” Rubio has been racking up endorsements from Establishment Republicans, including fellow Senators Orrin Hatch, Thom Tillis, Jeff Flake, and Dan Coates, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, and former GOP presidential nominee and Senator Bob Dole. As Politico notes, several of those endorsements came with strong suggestions that it’s time for Kasich to stop standing in Rubio’s way.
“If at some point John were to decide not to go forward with his campaign, Marco would be the primary beneficiary of that decision,” Pawlenty said. “It’s not for me or anyone else to say when John should stay in or get out but … John’s decision to stay in or get out could have a marked impact on the race.”
Hatch agreed that Kasich has “every right to stay in the race,” though he added, “but sooner or later, it’s got to come down to Marco if people really look at it carefully.”
Rubio’s campaign was more explicit, declaring in a memo sent to reporters on Sunday that Kasich “has no path to the nomination.” A Kasich spokesperson countered that Rubio has “consistently underperformed” throughout the race, and “has the same number of second-place finishes” as the Ohio governor.
Kasich laughed when asked about the Rubio campaign’s claim on Monday, saying he finds the argument “funny” and “ridiculous.” “I’ve challenged the Establishment my entire career, and they don’t like it,” Kasich said. “They want to get somebody they can be comfortable with.” Though he insisted he wasn’t “disparaging” Rubio, Kasich pointed out that he finished second in New Hampshire, while the Florida senator was in fifth. Then he pivoted to blaming the media. “You people would have taken bets, you never would have bet on me,” he told reporters. “And here’s another thing: You gave me no coverage. For a year, you ignored me. And now all of a sudden people are beginning to hear me, and I’m going to continue to talk. So how do you like that?”
For whatever reason, Kasich’s path to victory still seems very unlikely. New York’s Ed Kilgore outlined his strategy last week:
… The idea seems to be for Kasich to keep himself in the race by exceeding extremely low expectations in state after state until March 8, when Michigan votes. That state will produce the breakthrough — perhaps some actual delegates, one would hope — that will serve as a springboard to a big victory in his home state’s winner-take-all primary on March 15.
That’s still more plausible than Carson taking the nomination, and his informal adviser and close friend (frenemy?) Armstrong Williams admitted as much hours after his last-place finish in South Carolina. “His supporters are asking him to stay in the race, and he is determined to fight on. But the voters have spoken pretty clearly in the first three states, and sooner rather than later, he’s going to have to think hard about whether he should keep doing this,” Williams told the Washington Post. “He has a tough decision to make.”
This was followed by rumors on Sunday that Carson intends to suspend his campaign after the GOP Nevada caucus on Tuesday. “In addition to large, enthusiastic crowds, Dr. Carson has many people pledging their continued support and pleading with him to stay in the race, as his alternative voice for representative government, not D.C. politics as usual, needs to be heard,” a senior campaign official told the Blaze.
On Sunday night, the candidate told supporters it’s too early to call it quits, though he’s polling in the single digits in most upcoming primaries. “There are 50 states and only three have had primaries or caucuses – that’s like calling a baseball game after the first inning; it just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
But that didn’t convince Bill O’Reilly, who invited Carson on Monday night’s show for an intervention of sorts. “You know me, I’m a fairly straightforward guy,” the Fox News host told Carson. “It’d take a miracle for not only you, but John Kasich, at this point with the delegate situation being what it is, to overcome Trump.” Is is possible that Cruz or Rubio could catch fire? Sure. “But for you to catch fire, as far behind as you are, very difficult,” O’Reilly added, shaking his head.
Carson tried to stay positive, but O’Reilly was pretty brutal. “You know doc, I gotta tell you: I just don’t think you’re gonna do it,” he said, before badgering him about whether he’s settled on whom he’ll endorse following his inevitable failure. If Carson were actually running for president, comments like that might really hurt.