Wait, what if Kasich makes a deal to drop out and endorse Trump in exchange for becoming his VP?

There’s no deal in the works (that we know of), I’m just thinking out loud. Remember all of those “Rubio should offer Kasich the VP slot” pieces yesterday aimed at consolidating the center-right? Ramesh Ponnuru had a good comeback to that today. Why on earth would Kasich, who’s holding a crucial 8-10 percent of the vote and considerably more than that in valuable states like Ohio and Michigan, decide to trade his influence to Rubio? Rubio’s a total longshot. Even if he and Kasich struck a bargain, it’s still probably only a 50/50 proposition that he can beat Trump one-on-one — assuming he can get Cruz out of the race and make a one-on-one possible. Take five minutes and read Sahil Kapur’s piece today about the many flaws in the theory that Rubio’s going to vacuum up everyone else’s voters once the rest of the field drops out. A taste:

While a crowded field arguably helps Trump more than a small field, a NBC/SurveyMonkey poll released Thursday indicates that supporters of other candidates would not unify against Trump as others drop out.

The survey found that Bush backers are torn between Rubio (19 percent), John Kasich (16 percent), Cruz (12 percent) and Trump (11 percent). Kasich fans are torn between Rubio (24 percent), Trump (16 percent) and Cruz (10 percent). Ben Carson supporters split between Cruz (24 percent), Trump (22 percent) and Rubio (16 percent).

“I think they live in a fantasyland right now,” former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Monday on Fox News, referring to the GOP establishment. If you take Trump, Cruz, and Carson’s votes, “they have been consistently above 60 percent everywhere in the country, if you pool together all of the insurgents.”

As for Trump’s two chief rivals, it is similarly unlikely that if one drops out, the other would gain all of his voters. The NBC/SurveyMonkey poll found that Rubio supporters prefer Cruz over Trump as their second choice by a margin of 31 to 17 percent. Cruz supporters split 33 percent for Rubio and 26 percent for Trump.

Rubio would need to win decisively over Trump among Cruz’s and Kasich’s voters as their second choice in order to catch him in the polls and every new Trump victory makes that less likely, I think. The more Trump wins, the more plausible he seems as a nominee, and the more soft opposition to him will further soften. Rubio’s not finished yet but he’s much, much closer to being finished than Trump is. In which case, why shouldn’t Kasich be looking to wheel and deal with Trump rather than with Rubio? I can imagine Cruz rejecting an offer from Trump to be his VP in exchange for an endorsement partly because of the intense bitterness between them over the past two months and partly because Cruz — I hope — is too principled a conservative to lend his benediction to Trumpism. None of that holds true for Kasich, though. His whole shtick this campaign is that he’s a “different kind of Republican,” the prince of light who’s dealing out hugs while the ideologues destroy each other over who’s more pro-amnesty. Cruz and Rubio have long political futures ahead of them (in theory) but Kasich is 63 and he’s term-limited as governor. His best-case scenario for further public office when he inevitably loses this year is trying again in 2020, but that window will be closed if the GOP wins the White House this fall. If he’s looking to extend his career in public service, his smartest bet right now really would be to make a deal with Trump to become his VP.

And you know what? That would basically end this primary instantly. Trump, with most of Kasich’s supporters, would pass 40 percent in most states with the wind at his back. He’d be a prohibitive favorite to win the Ohio primary. Rubio would suddenly have lost a key reserve of center-right votes that he’s desperate to win and would somehow need to make it up elsewhere, by peeling conservatives away from Cruz and Carson. But as noted in Kapur’s excerpt, there’s no reason to think Cruz voters are overwhelmingly pro-Rubio as a second choice. They tilt towards Rubio and against Trump but not overwhelmingly, which makes sense given that Cruz’s support is a blend of true conservatives and angry populists who loathe Rubio for his immigration stance. Rubio would lose those populists and that would put Trump north of 50. With Kasich’s votes gone, in other words, it’d be game over for Rubio. To put it another way, the fate of the conservative movement, which hinges on its ability to stop Trump, essentially now rests in the hands of John Kasich. One of the most overtly centrist guys in the race, who’s warned critics of his ObamaCare expansion in Ohio that St. Peter won’t care much about making government bigger when you meet him at the pearly gates, is the only thing standing between the Reagan revolution and apocalypse. You feel good about that, right?

Here’s an … interesting quote from Kasich earlier today:

“My question to you is: John Kasich, when are you going to live out your purpose Thursday night when you have the national stage?” the supporter asked. “What are you gonna do to stick it to Trump, stick it to Rubio and live out your purpose?”

“I don’t know if my purpose is to be president,” Kasich responded. “My purpose is to be out here doing what I think I need to be doing, and we’ll see where it ends up.”

Maybe his purpose is to be VP to the one guy in the race who’s more annoying than he is. And the thing is, he’d actually be a good match for Trump in many ways. The Republican establishment will lean heavily on Trump to name a known commodity, someone with lots of government experience, as his veep in order to reassure swing voters in the fall that his administration wouldn’t be filled with loose cannons. Kasich, who spent years in Congress before becoming governor, is a perfect fit. Like Trump, Kasich is a centrist; conceivably he’d be more open to some of Trump’s dalliances with left-wing economic policy than most other Republicans would. Like Trump, Kasich has working-class appeal. He comes from a blue-collar family whereas Trump sounds like he comes from a blue-collar family. Arguably, Trump/Kasich is as strong a Republican ticket as you could imagine if you’re aiming to clean up with working-class whites in the Rust Belt. They’d be the favorite in Ohio against Hillary and might put Michigan in play. Kasich will never get closer to the White House than he would as Trump’s right-hand man. The only question is whether he finds Trump so distasteful, and so anathema to Reaganesque conservatism, that he couldn’t in good conscience serve with him. I’m betting … no, he doesn’t.

Exit question: How many center-right votes would shake loose for Trump if Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani endorsed Trump, which seems possible? Granted, they don’t command a bloc of voters like Kasich does, but one of Trump’s problems against Rubio is building credibility as a potential president given his erratic temperament and lack of government experience. (Yes, I know, “populists like that he has no experience!”, but not everyone’s a populist. Especially as regards an office entrusted with the nuclear launch codes.) The more big-name Republican endorsements Trump can land, the more reassured skittish voters will arguably feel. Christie’s endorsement isn’t worth nothing. Is that coming?

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