Kasich’s Very Iffy Path to the GOP Nomination

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Ohio Governor And GOP Presidential Candidate John Kasich Campaigns In South Carolina
Kasich's strategy for victory is formally known as "a wing and a prayer." Photo: Spencer Platt/2016 Getty Images

Pity Governor John Kasich of Ohio. No sooner had he pulled off the improbable trick of finishing second in the New Hampshire Republican primary than pesky analysts insisted on looking at the map and calendar and wondering where he could do well before his home state voted on March 15, a million years from now in terms of the dynamics of the presidential nominating process. Having invested all of his resources in the Granite State, while developing a reputation as the most moderate candidate in the field just as the fork in the road ahead pointed hard right, it wasn’t obvious what he could do for a second act, particularly since Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, both with strong organizations in South Carolina, were inconveniently still around.  

But now we have an analysis from National Review’s Alexis Levinson, to whom Kasich’s Svengali John Weaver has obviously been whispering. And it seems Team Kasich has chosen the strategy known to political scientists as “a wing and a prayer.” 

Seriously, 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. If he’s become the regional favorite of stolid midwestern Republicans by then, he might do well the same day in Illinois. And then — well, it seems then Kasich hopes Rubio and Bush and either Cruz or Trump has in the meantime self-destructed, forcing Republicans the rest of the way to choose between a reassuring mainstream Republican and disaster. 

The trouble is, as I pointed out the day after New Hampshire, that half of the Republican delegates will be chosen by March 15. Candidates other than John Kasich will have won most of them. Recognizing the math is rather daunting, Levinson shifts gears and suggests Kasich could wind up being a big dog simply by winning Ohio:

If he controls Ohio’s 66 delegates, plus however many he amasses across the rest of the map, he could have major leverage in a contested convention. And even if the convention is not contested, it will happen in his home state, which is critical to any Republican who hopes to win the White House.

So Kasich’s very iffy prospects for an unhappy end to his nomination campaign depend on other candidates’ performances and needs. If he gets that lucky, it would be a surprise.