John Kasich on primarying Trump in 2020: I can't predict the future

Via WaPo, I’m taking this semi-seriously only because Kasich proved once before that he’s willing to run a totally futile campaign against Trump. The prospect of losing badly in state after state doesn’t seem to bother him the way it bothers other pols. Besides, his term as governor expires in 2019. He’ll be 67 years old, unemployed, with no statewide office available to him unless and until Sherrod Brown comes up for reelection again in 2024. And Brown might lose to a Republican next year, effectively blocking any path Kasich has to the Senate down the road.

Primarying Trump may be his last chance to exert political influence, and political influence is important to Kasich. Remember this from November, two weeks after the election?

What does he have to lose by primarying Trump?

MAHER: You wouldn’t challenge him as a sitting president?

KASICH: That’s so — it’s so speculative. And look, I’m going to finish my term in 18 months as governor of our state, pull the state together and get it to do better and better and better. That’s what I’m all about — and giving everybody a shot. And then I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep a voice, but I can’t predict to you — I never thought I would be governor, I never thought I’d go back into politics. So, what I look for is, ‘What is it I’m supposed to do? What is it I’m supposed to do in my lifetime to build a better world or build a better community or whatever?’ And so I can’t tell you what that’s going to be, and I’m not plotting and scheming. I’m rooting for him to do well, Bill, for the same reason I root for a pilot on my airplane to do well. Okay? He’s the president.

RCP asked Republican strategists if they think Kasich would undertake something as quixotic as primarying a president who’s popular within his party. Verdict: Uh, sure. He’s John Kasich.

“Do I think John Kasich would primary Donald Trump? Absolutely. John Kasich would do that,” said one Republican strategist who has worked with the governor…

“I guarantee you, there is someone in the administration thinking about an ambassadorship for that guy,” said a GOP strategist who worked on a rival 2016 presidential campaign…

At an event Friday at a bookstore in Northwest Washington, D.C., one young woman who identified herself as a Democrat asked Kasich if he would consider running for president again in 2020.

“I’m going to give you my wife’s phone number,” Kasich said, to laughs. “I don’t know what I’m going to be doing. The only thing I know is, my future’s ahead of me.

“I’m not going to go away,” he told the questioner. He has incentives to say that, of course: He’s hawking a book right now and is eager to have a voice in the health-care debate as it plays out in Congress. The more serious he seems about challenging Trump, the more people will pay attention to him. What’s interesting about Kasich possibly primarying Trump is that he’s apt to attack him (at least in some ways) from the populist center, the niche that Trump himself occupied so successfully last year. If Ted Cruz primaried Trump, it would be a challenge from the right — Trump is a big-government Republican, he’s not fighting hard enough to rein in spending, he’s let everyone down by continuing DACA and caving on funding for the border wall, etc. An attack from the right wouldn’t do Trump much damage because, as we saw in November, the conservative voters who are wary of him will line up for him in the general election regardless. A Kasich challenge is potentially more dangerous because it would risk weakening Trump among independents and less ideological Republicans, especially Rust Belt centrists for whom Kasich is a known quantity. Watch at 8:50 as Kasich expresses maximum umbrage that the GOP health-care bill might put coverage for preexisting conditions at risk in some states. That line of attack in a primary, that Trump has sold out the little guy he went to Washington ostensibly to defend, would bruise the president even if it didn’t cost him any states. If Democrats ran a populist against him in the general, they’d spend months reminding voters that “even John Kasich” agrees with them that Trump has become a “swamp” creature.

Given the certainty of defeat and the venom he would have directed at him by establishment Republicans, Kasich would have no reason to run except pure arrogant pride and the satisfaction of bloodying the nose of a guy who stomped him into paste in 2016. So yeah, it’s quite possible he’s thinking about it.

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022