Report: Kasich increasingly sees "moral imperative" to primary Trump in 2020

His term as governor is up in 2018 and he can’t run again. He’s got nothing better to do.

Why this guy is so hot to run an even more futile campaign three years from now than the one he ran in 2016, I don’t know. Right, true, he did have that one encouraging poll from New Hampshire last week. But come on. He would be steamrolled in a 50-state primary unless Trump’s Republican support utterly collapsed, which is next to impossible. A quarter of Americans openly admit that there’s nothing Trump could do to lose them, which, combined with his incumbency, makes Kasich’s task hopeless. If Trump’s numbers got so unspeakably terrible that Kasich appeared to have a legit chance to win, it would effectively mean that Trump is unelectable and he probably wouldn’t run.

Here’s what Kasich is up against. New from Marist:

Objectively it’s pitiful that a new president can’t do better than 64/23 against a hypothetical primary opponent just nine months removed from his election victory, but it goes to show you how difficult this task would be for Kasich. Even with Trump momentarily floundering, he’s still a landslide winner.

It could be, though, that Kasich wouldn’t be running to win. Maybe he really does feel a “moral imperative” to provide Republican voters with an option besides Trump. Specifically, maybe he’s of an “anyone but Trump” mindset for 2020 and figures that a primary challenge that damages the president would, if nothing else, be useful to the Democratic nominee. You can imagine how nasty a GOP primary would be that pitted Kasich as a self-styled “moral” alternative to Trump and the alt-right. He wouldn’t win but he could impress upon undecided voters that Trump is the candidate of white nationalists or, worse, that the GOP is the party of white nationalists and shouldn’t be trusted with power. Relatedly, here’s what YouGov found when it asked people how they feel about “the political positions of white nationalists who attended the rally in Charlottesville”:

The question is worded vaguely (does “political positions” mean opposition to removing Confederate monuments or out-and-out white separatism?) but a plurality of Republicans are willing to concede that the alt-righters had a point. When asked how they think Trump feels about white nationalism, just 43 percent of Republicans felt confident in saying that he opposes it. That’s quite a fault line for a primary. Trump would be pulled by populists and nationalists towards further defenses of the alt-right over the next three years too, giving Kasich more material to mine for attacks. For instance, Steve Bannon is reportedly exultant over Trump’s performance yesterday:

Bannon saw Trump’s now-infamous Tuesday afternoon press conference not as the lowest point in his presidency, but as a “defining moment,” where Trump decided to fully abandon the “globalists” and side with “his people.”

Unlike some of Trump’s other top aides — who have varied on a spectrum between frustration and disgust since the president’s Charlottesville remarks — Bannon has unapologetically supported Trump’s instinct to apportion blame to “both sides.”

Sources who’ve spoken with Bannon since Charlottesville say he views this moment as analogous to the campaign moment when Hillary Clinton condemned half of Trump’s supporters to a “basket of deplorables.”

The “deplorables” moment backfired badly on Hillary, but Hillary was a weak candidate and Trump had no record in office at that point that could be held against him. Voters might be willing to ignore footsie with the alt-right from a populist newbie promising major change in Washington. I don’t know if they’ll be as forgiving of a president whose agenda has completely stalled and whose congressional “allies” seem to hate him. Imagine a primary between Trump, in full Bannon mode to consolidate populists on the one hand, and a Kasich-type, pitching himself to conservatives and anti-Trumpers with a “better angels of our nature” message, on the other. That would get brutal. It’s hard to see how the winner would stand a chance in the general election with the losing GOP faction having been labeled either immoral or weak and elitist by the winning one.

Speaking of Trump and his “allies,” here’s Shep Smith noting that Fox News invited all manner of congressional Republicans and spokespersons on today to defend the president’s remarks on Charlottesville. No takers. Go figure.