No? You’re not? Well, good news: Neither is Kasich, apparently. But the idea of two big-name Trump-hating Republicans entering the Senate next year is tantalizing. Mitt Romney’s seat in Utah is his for the asking while Kasich would have a heavy lift trying to unseat Sherrod Brown in Ohio, but he’s a two-term governor with universal name recognition. It’s not unthinkable that he’d win. Imagine POTUS sending critics Jeff Flake and Bob Corker into retirement … only to have them replaced by the far more prominent Romney and Kasich. What a nightmare for the White House.
But let’s back up. Why is anyone suddenly mentioning Kasich for Senate in the first place? It’s because Republican Josh Mandel, the frontrunner for the GOP Senate nomination, suddenly pulled out of the race today due to his wife’s illness. Mandel’s a Marine turned state legislator turned treasurer of Ohio. Just 40 years old, his margins of victory have been comfortable in every race he’s won. His lone defeat came to — ta da — Sherrod Brown in 2012, although Mandel did well under the circumstances. At the age of 34, he lost to Brown by six points in a year when Obama won the state and the presidency. In theory, with Trump in his corner and no presidential candidates on the ballot to drive Democratic turnout, he’s have stood a better chance at knocking off Brown next year. In practice, with Trump broadly unpopular and a Democratic wave shaping up, he might have been dead meat. And that might have ended his political ambitions for awhile; a two-time Senate loser isn’t someone the party’s likely to want to gamble on again. So he’s passing to attend to family matters.
Now the GOP needs a candidate. Who you gonna call? Republicans have a deep bench in Ohio but the obvious choice is a man who’s already won statewide and was sufficiently popular at home last year to win the Ohio primary over Trump, despite POTUS’s eventual rout of Hillary Clinton there in the general election. Kasich is a centrist in a purple state, the sort of politician who seems well positioned to appeal to independents who find Brown a bit too stridently left. He has legislative experience too, having served nearly 20 years in the House. And he’s available to run, as he’s term-limited as governor. If I’m not mistaken he’s never lost a race in Ohio, including the 2016 primary. He’d be a strong play against Brown.
But his chief strategist, John Weaver, shot down the idea on Twitter today. For an interesting reason:
To all the press calling, the answer is no. Bigger fish to fry. #TwoPaths
— John Weaver (@JWGOP) January 5, 2018
No other way to read that except as an admission that Kasich is running for president in 2020. Why he’d want to mount a doomed campaign for the White House instead of a credible campaign for Senate, I don’t know. (It’ll be good for Weaver’s bottom line, I guess.) Maybe Kasich thinks the GOP is destined to end up in the Senate minority sooner rather than later, if not next year than certainly in 2020, and sees no reason to spend the next six years of his life joining filibusters of Democratic legislation.
Whatever the reason, I assume he’ll be running in 2020 as an independent rather than futilely challenging Trump in the primary. If Democrats nominate a hard leftist, which looks like a safe bet, there’ll be a wide lane in the middle for a centrist to run. Kasich has already begun rebranding as an independent in certain ways, criticizing Trump at every opportunity and working with Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper on a bipartisan health-care plan. CNN reported in August that Kasich and Hickenlooper had already discussed running as a presidential ticket, in fact, although Kasich later insisted it wasn’t true. But that is the sort of campaign he’d run if he ran, a “fusion” program aimed at center-leftists who fear a Sanders or Warren presidency and center-rightists who remain NeverTrump. All he needs now is, like, $500 million. How generous is Mike Bloomberg feeling?