John Kasich, who ran as a hug-providing political insider in a year dominated by voter anger and the rise of outside candidates, suspended his political campaign on Wednesday. The move leaves Donald Trump standing alone as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Mr. Trump sounded conciliatory after news broke that Governor Kasich was quitting. He said that the Ohio governor might be helpful in the Buckeye State for the general election and that he would be interested in vetting Kasich as a possible vice presidential running mate.
“I think John’s doing the right thing,” Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Did he? Not everyone was so sure. Kasich supporters bemoaned the loss of what they felt was the last source of civility in the race. Over the months of a campaign where other candidates resorted to deeply personal insults, innuendo, and shouting, the Ohio governor stood alone in emphasizing the complexity of political problems and the need to work with others to find answers.
“If this is his last campaign, he went out admirably,” tweeted Yahoo News National Political Correspondent Matt Bai on Wednesday.
Others pointed out that Kasich had finally reached his strategic goal – a one-on-one match-up with Trump – only to withdraw. Whether he could have beaten Trump or not was irrelevant, in this view. He’d have been able to rally anti-Trump forces in a way Ted Cruz could not, and show that Trumpism had not conquered the entire Republican Party.
The problem is that Trump, if not Trumpism, does conquer all in the GOP. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus last night referred to Trump as the “presumptive nominee.” Given that, and fact that Trump is almost certain to pile up a winning majority of 1,237 delegates by the end of the primary season, Kasich felt he had no choice but to look for the exits.
And there were never enough of those supporters, anyway. Kasich won only his home state of Ohio and by the end was at less than 20 percent in the national polls in a three-man race.
Technically, Kasich finished 2016 in fourth, even though he was the last losing contender to drop out. Trump, Senator Cruz, and Marco Rubio all won more delegates. It’s amazing that he stayed in the race so long, given that he won more than 20 percent of the vote only once in the first 20 GOP primaries or caucuses, notes FiveThirtyEight polling guru Harry Enten.
“Most candidates would have seen the writing on the wall and gone home. Kasich didn’t see the wall or the writing, or he didn’t care,” writes Mr. Enten.
Would Trump actually ask Kasich to be his running mate, and if so would Kasich accept? Trump’s said he wants a politician as a VP, and the Ohio governor would provide balance to the billionaire in terms of experience and message. The pair never really clashed, though Trump did mock Kasich’s losing ways and his enthusiastic methods of eating.
For Kasich, a VP slot might validate his quixotic effort and provide a cap to his long and varied political career. But Kasich also described himself as a “Prince of Light and Hope,” and he’d be joining a presidential candidate who’s shown no eagerness to embrace either of those characteristics.