I just sent the John Kasich presidential campaign another $100 contribution today. A grain of sand from me to weigh on the side of Kasich staying in the presidential race through the convention.
No, I don’t think that Kasich has anything but a vanishingly low probability of winning the GOP nomination. Even given the (increasingly unlikely) event of an open convention, I don’t think the Kasich would get the nod. My gut feeling is that any nominee who is not Donald Trump would need to be someone who hadn’t run this year, who hadn’t been beaten by Trump.
But even if, in hope against hope, Kasich were to win the nomination, I actually don’t believe he’d win the general election against Hillary Clinton. Don’t get me wrong. I do pretty much believe the various polls that show Kasich leading Clinton, often significantly, in a head-to-head general election matchup. It’s just that I don’t think it will be a two-person race. If Kasich, or if anyone else other than Trump, is the GOP nominee, I’d guess Trump would still make a general-election run as a third-party or independent candidate. He’s implied as much on several occasions. And it’s impossible to think that Trump could lose the GOP nomination and gracefully (or, more likely, ungracefully) step out of the presidential race. Neither he nor his supporters would stomach that.
I’ve asked around, but I haven’t heard of any polling done with a three-way presidential race between Clinton, Kasich, and Trump. While it’s possible Trump would take equally from Clinton and Kasich, given that Know Nothings have been a more-traditional part of the Republican electoral coalition, my guess is that Trump would take disproportionately from Kasich, and thereby hand the election to Clinton.
So why did I just send Kasich’s campaign a $100 donation? After all, as my kids and wife will be happy to tell you, I’m a bit tightfisted when it comes to spending money. (A less generous person than I might drop the “a bit” part from that last sentence.)
I gave more money today to Kasich’s campaign because Kasich is a witness. Kasich is my witness. He is a witness to Trump (and Cruz), and he is a witness to their supporters. And he is a witness to the GOP more broadly.
First, it should have been an easy win for the GOP this year. Clinton was almost certain to be the nominee, and while she has considerable support from the Democratic establishment, and significant, if unenthusiastic, support in the base, she is a deeply flawed and wounded candidate. While the election would not have been a GOP landslide, in a normal election year I think a reasonable GOP candidate would have led Clinton in the polls from nomination to election day.
To be sure, it’s possible that Trump will beat Clinton. But I think it’s unlikely, even if Clinton is indicted (which I’d guess she won’t be). So four years of a Hillary Clinton presidency will be on Trump and his supporters.
Kasich needs to stay in to be witness that there was always a viable alternative to Trump. (I don’t think Ted Cruz was ever a viable alternative to Trump: he’d be decimated in an election with Clinton. And, no, I don’t buy for a moment that Cruz’s defeat would share the silver lining of the Goldwater debacle of 1964.)
But Kasich is a witness to more than just a political point. There is a policy point as well. An important one for the future of the GOP, and one whose life was all but snuffed by 9/11. I mean compassionate conservatism.
While this was ridiculed by many on the political right even before 9/11, compassionate conservatism, however infelicitously named was, I think, a pivot that the Republican party needed to take. The loss of that opportunity with the shift in national priorities after the attack was a real loss for the GOP. Indeed, the GOP would not likely be where it is this year with the Trump insurgency had the pivot occurred rather than aborted.
“Compassionate conservatism” could have been the pivot that created a GOP movement broadly framed around a coherent ideological doctrine similar in inception (if not in execution) to some of Europe’s Christian Democratic parties: Christian, conservative, generally pro-market, dedicated to the notion of subsidiarity, but also pragmatic and reconciled with the need for social insurance to soften the hard social and economic edges of market capitalism.
If it had been established in the GOP at the time, a movement applying the principles underlying these policies would have given voice to an authentic conservatism that recognized the need for a social safety net, consistent with subsidiarity and with fostering and sustaining family life, while promoting free enterprise at home and open markets abroad.
I can’t help but think that, if established, this GOP movement would for a decade have located its core constituency among the lower three income quintiles of households, the second and third of these quintiles being those that provide much of the electoral strength for Trump this year. In effect, if it had been established, there would have been no opening for Trump.
Kasich has his flaws as a candidate. In many ways his entire campaign has been surprisingly low-energy. From being sidelined in almost all of the GOP debates, to his unwillingness to be scripted to advocate principle instead of personality. The “I’m-the-nice-guy-candidate” platform just doesn’t do it. He has generally failed to articulate a coherence behind his policy positions—and I do believe there is a deep coherence—thereby allowing the media, and many GOP primary voters, to write off this deeply conservative candidate as a “moderate.”So I gave money to Kasich’s campaign so that, however obliquely he does it, and however prickly and idiosyncratic he may be in doing it, he continues to bears witness to this GOP possibility.
James R. Rogers is Associate Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University.