It has been more than a month since Marco Rubio dropped out of the GOP presidential race. Since then, more than 2.6 million votes have been cast and 309 delegates have been up for grabs (although not all of them have been allocated).
Yet, somehow, John Kasich is still behind Rubio on both counts.
Even after taking in more than 200,000 votes in New York yesterday, good for second place there, Kasich trails Rubio by more than a quarter-million votes in the cumulative tally. He also has 24 fewer delegates than the Floridian, because the handful he won in New York were his first since taking all 66 in his home state, Ohio.
The night he won Ohio, March 15, represented both the high point and low point of Kasich’s campaign. It was his first (and only) victory of the primary process, but it was also the night he was mathematically eliminated from clinching the 1,237 delegates needed to take the nomination. Or maybe the low point came a week later in Arizona, when Rubio finished ahead of Kasich even though he’d been out of the race for seven days. (Blame early voting.)
So, remind me why Kasich is still in this race?
Supposedly, the Kasich team thinks that, by staying in the race, it can position its man to be the fallback candidate in Cleveland — favorite son! favorite son! — if no one arrives at the convention with a majority. Set aside the question of whether delegates would actually pick the (perhaps) fourth-place candidate over two men who stand to have roughly 80 percent of the delegates between them, and who (particularly in the case of Ted Cruz) are already at work securing the loyalty of said delegates as they are chosen state by state. We must also ask: Why would delegates pick Kasich when he keeps proving Republican voters don’t want him? By staying in the race, the main thing Kasich is demonstrating is that he’s not really electable.
Ah, you say, but what about those general-election polls that show he’d be the best Republican to take on Hillary Clinton? Because Medicaid expansion, or something.
I used to buy that line of argument, but I’m starting to wonder how much those poll results simply reflect a) voters’ lack of familiarity with Kasich (whereas they already know they don’t like Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, Ted Cruz), and/or b) voters’ desire to express support for a Republican this year, just not the ones they’re most likely to have as an option in November. In other words, it may just be that Kasich is seen as the “generic Republican” whom voters like in theory — particularly after eight years of a Democrat in the White House and given the electorate’s propensity over the past 60 years not to give the presidency to one party for three straight terms (George H.W. Bush’s victory in 1988 being the only exception).
One incident that helped to change my thinking came during campaigning in New York. Last week, while visiting with Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, Kasich tried to argue with them about who’s the most important figure in the Torah. From an article about the encounter in The Jewish Week:
“‘The story of the people are Abraham and God made a covenant with Abraham — not Moses!’ Kasich told Ezra Friedlander, a haredi lobbyist who was escorting Kasich through the heavily Haredi neighborhood.
“Friedlander had tried to explain that for Jews, Moses is considered the most important biblical figure, and more important than the patriarchs, because he brought the law to the Jews.
“‘Moses is up there,’ Friedlander said, as Kasich, an Anglican who was born Roman Catholic, examined shelves of Jewish texts.
“Kasich’s conversations seemed predicated on the assumption that his fervently religious interlocutors didn’t know much about Judaism.
“‘Have you studied Joseph?’ he told a group of yeshiva students. ‘Did you hear the most important thing Joseph said to his brothers? “My brothers you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Did you know that?'”
As Jonathan Chait noted, “this is a bit like visiting MIT, wandering into a physics lab, and asking people if they ever heard of this guy named Isaac Newton.” It’s the kind of grating, know-it-all attitude that makes me wonder if it’s not that Kasich is the best-liked Republican in the race, but rather that voters don’t yet know they dislike him.
Although, come to think of it, Republican voters seem to have demonstrated quite clearly that they already know they don’t much like the guy. It’s really past time for him to exit the race.