Kasich was the one person specifically named in Christopher Suprun’s op-ed last night as a possible alternative for members of the electoral college. Realistically, though, he’s the only alternative. Every other prominent Republican who might conceivably be chosen as a protest vote by anti-Trump electors has already been coopted by Trump. Paul Ryan? He’s Trump’s right-hand man in the House. Mitt Romney? He could be Trump’s top diplomat before the week is out. Nikki Haley? She’s in the cabinet too, as ambassador to the UN. Ted Cruz? He’s too much of an ideologue to draw a large contingent of electors, and besides, he caved and endorsed Trump before the election when he realized might face a primary challenge and be frozen out by the Mercers if he didn’t change course. Jeb Bush? That would be a thumb in Trump’s eye by electors who dislike him, but Jeb too is polarizing thanks to his surname and his performance in the primaries was too underwhelming to get anyone excited about him as a protest pick. Kasich is the only A-list GOPer who’s non-polarizing, still sort of viable for national office, and who hasn’t backed Trump. And now here he is, dashing Suprun’s fantasies.
Interesting that Hillary Clinton hasn’t issued a statement like this in light of that Change.org petition that’s drawn nearly five million signatures.
Gov. John Kasich statement on the recent news about the upcoming Electoral College meeting: pic.twitter.com/dm9yOfBqwF
— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) December 6, 2016
Worth asking: Why would Kasich issue this statement? Why would he care what the electors end up doing? He’s term-limited as governor and will be done after 2018. And Trump’s not going to punish a key swing state which delivered for him in November by withholding federal goodies just because he has a beef with Kasich. Either Kasich’s worried that his deputies will be frozen out of administration jobs going forward if he doesn’t try to mend fences with Trump or, having watched the nearly miraculous rapprochement between Trump and Romney, he’s thinking that he might end up in Trump’s cabinet at some point down the line if he starts to heal the rift now by encouraging electors to stick with Trump. The only alternative is that Kasich wants to keep his options open for 2024 and knows that it’ll be held against him by primary voters if he ends up winning electoral votes from the duly elected president now. But that can’t be it. He’ll be 72 in eight years and will have been out of office by that point for six years. His presidential hopes are over. This is about future roles in government for him and his staff, I assume.
Changing gears, since we’re on the subject of Trump rivals who might be president instead of him, read this short but provocative piece by Peter Spiliakos wondering how the 2016 primaries might have played out if not for Ted Cruz’s role in the 2013 government shutdown. The shutdown made Cruz famous, Spiliakos notes, but it also made him toxic to the establishmentarians who might have helped him defeat Trump.
The Cruz shutdown didn’t hurt the Republicans electorally but it did affect the party. The shutdown created an incredible amount of hostility toward Cruz from the party’s leadership. The shutdown gave Cruz a reputation as a rebel in a presidential election cycle in which that was an asset, but my sense is that many Republican-leaners who consume most of their news through mainstream media decided that he was the devil.
The depth of elite hostility toward Cruz helps explain why the GOP acted so abnormally in in response to Trump. Trump’s 2016 candidacy bears some resemblance to Jesse Jackson’s in 1988. Jackson was another guy who had never held government office and seemed to be running a stunt candidacy. While the field was split, Jackson could win Democratic primaries, but as the field consolidated, the last of the anti-Jackson candidates was able to rally the majority of the voters. Trump had a much broader base than Jackson did, but he received only 45 percent of the vote in a party whose conventional politicians failed to consolidate against him…
The one state where the GOP establishment threw in with Cruz was Wisconsin. My reading of the numbers is that it made a difference. As Henry Olsen points out, the largest group of Republican primary voters self-identify as “somewhat conservative.” Cruz won 23 percent of those voters in Michigan and 34 percent of them in Indiana. With the enthusiastic help of the state’s party leadership, Cruz won 47 percent of Wisconsin’s somewhat conservative voters. He even won 29 percent of Wisconsin’s moderate Republican primary voters.
With Scott Walker enthusiastically behind Cruz in Wisconsin, enough of those “somewhat conservatives” decided that Cruz was okay to make him an easy winner there — the last major primary he would win. If establishmentarians had recognized early that Rubio and Kasich simply didn’t have the numbers to threaten Trump and that Cruz was the only game in town, maybe they could have pulled Walker’s trick for him in other states. But they hated him too much. On the other hand, South Carolina was supposed to be a home game for Cruz with its large population of evangelicals, a state that would propel him to the nomination without any establishment help, and yet he lost decisively there. You could argue that that proves Spiliakos’s thesis, sort of, because the local Republican establishment — Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Trey Gowdy — were all behind Rubio, which meant a split vote among conservatives between Rubio and Cruz. (The two combined for nearly 45 percent of the vote versus Trump’s 32.5 percent.) If Cruz had had more goodwill among the establishment, maybe he would have gotten Haley’s endorsement instead. And of course you could do a flip-side version of Spiliakos’s piece arguing that Rubio’s embrace of the Gang of Eight left him with essentially nothing but establishment support when what he needed to beat Trump was the same populist/establishment fusion that Cruz needed.
Exit question: Without the 2013 shutdown, would Cruz have had the same level of support he had this year? I can imagine a scenario in which the shutdown doesn’t happen and he does worse in the primaries, with various populists deciding that if forced to choose between two not-terribly-populist politicians in Rubio and Cruz, they might as well go with the more likable of the two.