What is John Kasich’s plan?

Start with the math. It’s mathematically impossible for Kasich to win enough delegates to arrive at the GOP convention with a majority of pledged delegates. He has no path to the nomination by winning primaries and he will almost undoubtedly arrive at the convention with the third most pledged delegates of any candidate, or even fourth place if he gets out of the race before overtaking Marco Rubio’s tally. Hence, we can exclude a straight shot at the nomination as any part of Kasich’s plan. If he wins the nomination it’ll be on the convention floor.

Is he running for VP? If so, it’s a strange way to do it unless he is hoping Trump takes the prize. Every day he stays in the race he is sucking at least a little oxygen out of Ted Cruz’s tank. Make no mistake: Kasich has some significant support: a Morning Consult poll has him at 14% in a three-man field. Of the 12% support that Rubio had in the previous MC poll a full 5 points came Kasich’s way and this is more than what went to Trump and Cruz combined. Cruz would love to have those anti-Trump voters to challenge Trump mano-a-mano  but as long  as Kasich is in the race, it’s going to be difficult to overcome the 16 point gap he has on Trump. Kasich is doing Cruz no favors and so can’t be expecting a VP nod from the Texan, but perhaps he is trying to corner the Trump VP pick?

Tactically that would seem to be what Kasich is doing, but only when you discount the very different campaigns that the two have been running and the reasons that Kasich has been doing well. Kasich is calm, he is moderate, he doesn’t spend his time attacking other candidates in the debates, and he seems to enjoy playing the ‘adult in the room’ role. With Ben Carson out of the race and endorsing Trump no less, this is a role he is now playing without challenge from another candidate. It may even be why he is gaining support from former Rubio voters. But how can a man who has built his campaign on being everything that the arguing, childish taunting, and brash field isn’t suddenly turn around and serve as VP to Trump? If it’s what he is going for then running interference makes sense but his campaigning style does not.

There’s always the idea that Kasich thinks he can win it from the convention floor. This only works if Trump arrives at the convention with less than the required number of delegates and then some of those pledged delegates also switch to Kasich on a second, third, or subsequent ballot. He wins by being the acceptable middle candidate: not as strictly conservative as Cruz, not as inexperienced and outside politics as Trump. He’s the Special-K of Republican politics: not too heavy, not too light, just right.

But this also assumes that Trump will arrive at the floor with less than the number of delegates he needs. Ironically, the longer that Kasich stays in the race, the more likely it is that Trump will get the delegates he needs. As Kasich pulls at least some of the anti-Trump vote away from Cruz, Trump is left with a stronger plurality, if not majority, in the states yet to vote. In other words, Kasich needs to stay in it to win from the floor but if he stays in it he may not have a chance to win from the floor.

Is he staying in things to raise issues with the voters and steer the campaign in a particular direction? There’s been no evidence of that. He’s had trouble getting traction and while his 14% in the polling is significant, he still runs behind the combined “Someone Else/Don’t Know/Undecided” option which is at 17%. He’s not out there pushing the nomination fight where he wants it to go, he’s just reacting to the moves of Trump and Cruz. Perhaps the best example of this is his inexplicable call to avoid the Fox News debate planned for Monday (now cancelled) unless Trump was going to be there. Why would a candidate with things to say and voters to appeal to miss an opportunity to be one of two candidate on a debate stage, in prime time, on a conservative network and without Trump to interrupt and steal the show?

Right now I can’t for the life of me figure out what Kasich is doing in the race, what his goals are, and what his strategy is. The very best outcomes for him seem to be winning the nomination from the convention floor or picking up a VP slot, but both of these seem unlikely right now with regards to Trump (who is benefiting from Kasich staying in the race but under whom Kasich probably wouldn’t serve) and to Cruz (who is not benefiting from Kasich staying in the race and who possibly could have Kasich as a VP…if he managed to secure the nomination Kasich is, in part, costing him).

John Kasich is the guy in the race who you pay no attention to until the point where you have to, and even then you really don’t know what he’s doing.

Image by Marc Nozell.

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