Good lord — the rest of the field is finally starting to come together, like a big anti-Trump Voltron! First Rubio spokesman Alex Conant gave the interview below to CNN, then the candidate himself hint-hinted that his fans in Ohio should cross the aisle for Kasich.
Marco Rubio not as blunt as his adviser Conant on strategic voting for John Kasich in Ohio, but he drops the hint. pic.twitter.com/f4TIJ6Q80Q
— Rebecca Berg (@rebeccagberg) March 11, 2016
Cruz bugs out of Florida, clearing the way there for a Rubio upset of Trump, now Rubio nudges centrists in Kasich’s home state to consolidate behind him. Coordination at last! (Thanks, perhaps, to Jeb Bush?) And it makes all the sense in the world for Rubio: Whatever vanishingly small chance at the nomination is left for him depends on him winning at a brokered convention. The only way to ensure a brokered convention is to deny Trump delegates by any means necessary. If that means throwing his support to Kasich in Ohio, so be it. Just hold Trump under 1,237 and take your chances in Cleveland.
And Kasich is in the same boat, of course. The only way he ends up as nominee is if no one has a majority of delegates before the convention. Which means, logically, he should be calling on his own supporters in Florida to switch to Rubio and deny Trump a majority there, right? Right?
Kasich spox Rob Nichols on Rubio news: "We were going to win in OH without his help, just as he's going to lose in FL w/o ours"
— Kathleen Ronayne (@kronayne) March 11, 2016
In a campaign distinguished by nonstop douchey soundbites, that one stands out as one of the very douchiest. Clearly there’s no coordination happening between Rubio and Kasich, just as it makes no sense for Cruz to be coordinating with Rubio to cede Florida to him when he’s desperate to have Rubio exit the race. Kasich’s thinking, I guess, is that it’s almost not worth winning Ohio if Rubio wins Florida since that means they’ll both continue on and Rubio will continue to cannibalize some of the anti-Trump, anti-Cruz vote that Kasich needs. Moreover, with both Kasich and Rubio continuing to pull some votes from Cruz, a lingering four-way race likely benefits only Trump, which defeats the whole point of winning Ohio in the first place: If the three non-Trumps are going to continue dividing votes between them, Trump will probably reach a majority of delegates in late spring and Kasich’s play for a brokered convention will be for naught.
As such, the only way it’s worth it to Kasich to keep going is if Rubio is pushed out next week, making it a three-man race. Kasich would have a shot at finishing second to Trump, ahead of Cruz, in some states now that the primaries are moving to the north and west, which will improve his position at a brokered convention and maybe put him in line for VP. And the distinction Nichols draws in the quote above is true and significant. Based on the recent polling, it does look like Kasich has a better shot of beating Trump in Ohio than Rubio has of beating him in Florida. Kasich is calculating here that by rejecting Rubio’s offer of quid pro quo, Trump will finish him off down south next week while Kasich will win his own state, making him the only game in town for Republican centrists going forward. It’s risky, but like Cruz, he needs Rubio out ASAP more than he needs Rubio’s votes.
Exit question via Ross Douthat: If Rubio was going to give the green light to his fans in Ohio to back Kasich, why didn’t he do it at the debate last night? That would have been the buzziest moment from the event, picked up in all the major papers today. As it is, his and Conant’s tepid endorsement on a slow Friday seems calculated for minimal effect.