If I had to choose my three least appealing candidates when the field was 16-deep, I would have picked Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich. With the field narrowed, I have to look at this through a more discerning lens. Doing so has revealed that Kasich may be the most important endorsement waiting to happen, the one person who can shift the balance of power to Ted Cruz’s favor or crown Donald Trump as the nominee with two short sentences…
“I am dropping out of the race and endorsing ______ for President. It’s my hope that they will pick me to be their Vice Presidential running mate.”
Before getting into the details about why he’s the most likely VP nominee, let’s look at one very clear truth: he’s been running for Vice President ever since he came out last year and said he’s not going to accept a VP tap. His path to the nomination has always hinged on winning a few states before taking Michigan and Ohio, then riding the momentum all the way to Cleveland. When it became apparent by mid-January that his chances of winning any states at all before Ohio were slim, he had to change his strategy. He needed to have three things happen for him to salvage his campaign and turn it into a valid VP pitch.
The first thing that needed to happen was a 2nd place finish in New Hampshire to give his campaign the credibility that has eluded him from the beginning. At the time I thought it was idiotic to put all of his eggs into a very small basket, but that was when I thought he was still running for President. The second thing he wanted to happen was that he needed to block Marco Rubio as much as possible. He needed to prevent Rubio from getting the Establishment’s nod as the clear alternative to Trump. It’s debatable whether it was Kasich’s campaigning in places where Rubio was strong or if Rubio has simply run the most disappointing campaign of the political season, but either way it’s worked.
The third thing that needs to happen is that he must win Ohio. The more decisively he can win, the better. If he loses, he’s done and has already said as much. If he wins, he has some leverage. If he wins big, he has a lot of leverage and will likely be the VP choice of either Cruz or Trump.
Here are some pieces of circumstantial evidence (or blind speculation, depending on how you look at it) that leads me to believe he’s the Veep:
- His campaign shifted from being an ineffective attack chihuahua to being Mr. Positive Sunshine. The VP is normally the attack dog in the general election, but neither Trump nor Cruz need help in that area. If anything, both need a VP to balance the ticket towards calmness and sanity.
- Ohio is notorious as the bellwether for the general election having picked the President in every election since the 1960s. If Kasich can win Ohio, being a sitting governor in the ultimate swing state will be very appealing to the nominee.
- He’s running out of cash. Since overspending to get 2nd in New Hampshire, his entire campaign has been conspicuously approaching the red and will get there shortly after Ohio. If he can pull it off, he will end up winning the only two states that he needed to win to get into the VP conversation.
- A brokered convention is taboo to discuss in public, but he’s talking about it. That’s more of a threat than a hope; he’s not saying that he wants a brokered convention. He’s saying that we’re currently heading towards one and he may be the person who can stop if by jumping on a ticket after winning Ohio.
- Cruz is going after Florida instead of Ohio. On the surface, this seems like a play to get Rubio to lose and drop out and that’s part of the strategy, but it’s conspicuous that he hasn’t contested Ohio in similar fashion… unless he wants Kasich to win Ohio. Conspiracy theorists would say that there’s already a handshake deal in place that if Kasich wins Ohio, he’s ready to be Cruz’s VP.
The more likely scenario is, of course, that Kasich would jump on Trump’s ticket. However, that may not be possible if Trump has already promised that role to Chris Christie or someone else. In that scenario, Kasich’s ability to win Ohio and promise to deliver it in the general election may make a Cruz/Kasich ticket the thing that can unify the party and put an end to the Trump menace.
There are probably holes in this theory which was born from a pre-Super-Tuesday blog post that didn’t really flesh this out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.
Kasich can push one candidate or the other to the tipping point by winning Ohio, dropping out, endorsing, and fueling speculation of being on the ticket. If would be very reminiscent of another deal that was worked out in 1980 when George H.W. Bush cut a deal with Ronald Reagan.