Column: Can John Kasich win the Republican primary…or the presidency?

Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a town hall at Savage Mill in Savage, Md., Wednesday, April 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Said no one ever…at least initially. As 2016 shapes up to be the zaniest election in our barely politically-cognizant lifetimes, we are learning that anything is possible, even the Republican presidential nomination going toward a candidate who has consistently trailed behind the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz — his sole two competitors left within the race — in the tens of percentage points.

Even Marco Rubio, who suspended his campaign March 16 after losing in his home state)(something at least Kasich didn’t manage to do, arguably the only reason he remains in the running), possesses more delegates than the Ohio governor at 172; Kasich only has 143.

And while 34 of these 172 delegates are technically free to go upon Rubio’s departure from the race, the first-term Senator is personally asking state Republican parties to keep them bound to him for one of the same reasons Kasich is still in the race: to prevent Donald Trump from acquiring the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination.

After his loss in Wisconsin to Ted Cruz, Trump will most likely finish in the lead, but will probably not reach 1,237 delegates after all the states vote; statistical website FiveThirtyEight estimates he will only obtain 1,175.  

What this means is if no one can effectively clinch the nomination, the candidates will head to a contested Republican National Convention in Cleveland this July. A second ballot will be cast there, and establishment delegates will assuredly defy popular will, usurping Trump and voting for a more electable, right-of-center candidate. This is where John Kasich comes in.

However, Kasich’s chance at the nomination is contingent on amendments to the rules of the convention. Specifically, members of the Republican National Committee mentioned Rule 40(b), a mandate requiring a candidate have a majority of delegates from at least eight states to be considered for the nomination, is being considered for revision or all-out abolishment. Obviously, such newfound deliberations are a product of establishment Republicans tearing out their eyes at the prospect of a Trump presidential bid, or even a Cruz one, as the Texas Senator is generally despised by the Republican establishment as well.

John Kasich is, by default, the natural foil to the demagogic populism and profound social conservatism of Trump and Cruz, respectively. Maybe he lacks delegates and popular support, but he is really all the establishment has at this point in the presidential race. Maybe it’s good that he stuck around.

Moreover, Kasich has a mosaic of likable qualities to Republicans: he favors the classic tax cuts and deregulations of trickle-down economics, is adamantly pro-life and wants to repeal Obamacare with the exception of the Medicaid expansion, which he welcomed with open arms in Ohio.

On the other hand, he has some centered beliefs that would fare well among Independents and possibly Democrats inclined to not vote for someone as divisive as Hillary Clinton, such as climate change is real, sex discrimination is a barbaric non-issue and undocumented immigrants can stay in the country (and a path to citizenship may be a worthwhile bipartisan compromise). His apparent willingness to compromise is definitely attractive in such a polarized political hellscape.

In fact, nine different polls project Kasich winning against Hillary Clinton in a presidential election.

Unfortunately, in reality, a Kasich presidential campaign probably won’t happen. Sure, delegates could cast their votes for him in July, but Trump is such an egomaniac that a loss at the Cleveland convention would likely result in a Trump Independent bid, taking his constituency with him. Not to mention all the voters (not exclusive to Trump) who become disenfranchised at Republican leaders undermining their votes by nominating someone they deem more “electable.”

Trump predicted riots at Cleveland with those “non-him” kinds of results, and I honestly don’t doubt him. Republican leaders understand what a bad look defying popular vote is, but in the arduous pursuit of purging the orange Mucinex mascot from their party, can we really be so sure about that?


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.