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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Kasich’s Running a Zombie Campaign

Watching primary and caucus returns from Arizona and Utah on Tuesday night, one Republican candidate’s performance was reminiscent of an episode of the TV show about a zombie apocalpyse, The Walking Dead. I wrote about it the next day at New York:

Donald Trump won Arizona and all of its 58 delegates, while Ted Cruz won Utah and its 40 delegates. The third candidate still in the field, John Kasich, won no delegates, and his big psychological victory was finishing a very poor second place in Utah over Trump in what may very well be America’s preeminent Trump-hating jurisdiction. He also managed to “finish fourth in a three-man race” in Arizona by trailing the zombie candidacy of Marco Rubio (who did better in early voting than Kasich did in early voting or on election day).
In popular mythology, when you get bit by a zombie you soon zombify yourself. The Arizona showing by Kasich seems to consign him to the ranks of the walking dead. Even before last night, there were signs in every direction that the Ohioan had worn out his welcome with, well, just about everybody in the GOP. His refusal to give Ted Cruz a clean shot at Trump in Utah greatly annoyed Mitt Romney, who can hardly be expected to promote Kasich’s interests if the contested convention they both want actually materializes. But as Robert Draper explained on Monday in The New York Times Magazine, it’s hard to find much of any “insider” base of support for the man:

[M]ost party insiders to whom I’ve spoken flatly reject a draft-Kasich movement. Partly this is because he hasn’t earned it. To date he has triumphed only in his home state — which was not a huge surprise, given that he won all 12 of his previous elections (for State Senate, Congress and governor) there. Kasich was something of an absentee candidate in the South and has underperformed in the North and the Midwest outside Ohio. His fund-raising abilities are not especially impressive: He has raised $15.3 million thus far, not much more than the $14.2 million that Marco Rubio raised in the last quarter of last year alone …
Perhaps just as important, conservatives — particularly in the G.O.P. commentariat — do not see Kasich as one of them … As governor, Kasich expanded Medicaid benefits in his state, against the wishes of a Republican-controlled Legislature. He also embraced Common Core educational standards and today favors a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants. All of these constitute apostasies to movement conservatives.
But there’s a third layer of resistance to Kasich, one with which Cruz can identify: Many Beltway Republicans don’t like him.

Yeah, the dirty little secret of the Kasich campaign all along has been that the actual candidate behind his relentlessly upbeat campaign has a long-standing reputation in Washington and Columbus as a nasty piece of work. Republicans who know this are understandably a mite irritated at Kasich’s little lectures on how to emulate the sweet reasonableness of Jesus.
But if Kasich really has little support in the Republican Establishment, how about his occasional claim of being a big brawling anti-Establishment figure himself, fighting the good fight out there in the Ohio badlands? Roll Call‘s Stu Rothenberg, who certainly knows a Beltway insider when he sees one, had great sport with the idea of Kasich the Outsider in a recent column:

Kasich … often refers to his service in the House but insists that the establishment fears him.
Just don’t look behind the curtain, because if you do, you will see that Kasich’s supporters and advisers include party establishment types like consultant Charlie Black, former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, long-time party strategist Stu Spencer, former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, former New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu and New Hampshire veteran GOP operative Tom Rath.
There is nothing wrong with that team, except that it was the establishment before anyone was complaining about “the establishment.”

And that gets us to the strategic anomaly of the Kasich campaign. The one thing we know right now with a high degree of certainty is that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are going to arrive in Cleveland ranked first and second in bound delegates, together holding a sizable and perhaps an overwhelming majority. How exactly does it transpire that these delegates (yes, there will be some disloyal-to-the-candidate party hacks among them, but not really that many) will on some second or third or fourth ballot settle on the candidate they’ve both regularly trounced in the primaries and who epitomizes the veteran elected official RINOs their supporters despise? Is the “year of the outsider” in the GOP really going to produce a nominee who’s been in public office for 27 years, dating back to the Carter administration?

I don’t think so.

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