If he’s going to lose to Trump in a landslide, a third-party run ending in crushing defeat is the only dignified way to go.

Has he admitted previously that he’d have no chance in a primary? I don’t remember him saying so. This seems to be a new talking point, one he’s offered more than once in the past 24 hours. The timing is curious.

“I don’t get into things that I don’t think I can win,” the term-limited governor said during a Columbus Metropolitan Club luncheon. “And I think right now, today, inside the Republican Party, I can’t beat him [Trump] in a primary.”

Kasich again brought up the prospect of running for president as a independent, though he noted that such candidates usually don’t win.

“I don’t have to be a candidate to have a voice,” the governor said. “Because I will have a voice, believe me.”

That was Kasich this morning. Watch the AP interview below from yesterday and you’ll hear the same note of defeatism. After months of flirting with running for president, why would he downplay his chances of winning now, when Trump’s legal perils have never been greater? Mueller’s building to something on Russiagate and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney all but accused Trump of being an unindicted co-conspirator in Michael Cohen’s campaign-finance crimes. The president’s momentarily in political trouble too, with nationalists pissed off at him for seemingly caving on the wall again and conservatives angry that he’d attempt to ban bump stocks by executive order. Granted, the obvious political antidote isn’t “John Kasich!”, but disgruntlement about the incumbent is a necessary (albeit not sufficient) condition for a meaningful primary challenge. Suddenly there is a bit of disgruntlement on the right — and yet Kasich sounds less inclined to run than before. How come?

Maybe he’s spent the past few months quietly gladhanding rich donors to see if they might bankroll his primary challenge, only to find zero interest. For understandable reason: Asking a donor to oppose a sitting president from his own party is asking him to torch whatever influence he may have over the White House. No one with any hope of lobbying Trump would do it. Even among those segments of the donor class implacably opposed to Trump, who wants to throw $20 million at a hopeless John Kasich insurgency? I said a few days ago that there are really only two reasons to primary the president: One is to promote your vision for GOP 2.0, the other is because you think Trump is grossly unfit for office and feel obliged to reality-check the party base about that. I don’t get the sense from Kasich that he’s passionately motivated by either mission. He’s an old-school Bush-era centrist Republican, very much GOP 1.0 (or 1.5). And although he clearly has contempt for Trump, he’s not as focused on character as, say, Jeff Flake is. The best Kasich can do in the AP interview is to fault POTUS for “not bringing the country together,” as if anyone’s capable of doing that in an era of venomous negative partisanship.

I think he wants to run because he wants to be president *that* badly and expected to be a strong contender for the 2020 nomination if Election Day 2016 had gone the way most people expected. But we are where we are. No one with any money thinks he can do it under these circumstances, and rightly so. It could be, then, that “I don’t think I can beat Trump in a primary” is just a somewhat less embarrassing cover story for “I can’t convince anyone to cut me a check despite having spent the past year begging.” Although if that’s true, surely he could have found an excuse to pass on the race that’s less defeatist than this. “I’ve been running for office my whole adult life and want to spend time with my wife and children,” he might have said. Or how about the evergreen, “I think I can be more effective on the sidelines”?

Maybe he’s concluded that if he did run, the sycophantic state parties would suddenly cancel all of their primaries to spare our leader from embarrassment. Third-party run or nothing for Kasich!