The Kasich Conundrum

In every election cycle, there are candidates who run for president, and candidates whose true aims lie with the vice presidency. As the 2016 race drags on, it is becoming increasingly clear that Ohio Governor John Kasich falls into the latter category.

His lingering presence in a race where he lacks mathematical viability coupled with his late entrance into the already crowded field demonstrates his ambition to snag the VP spot. With moderate stances and high favorability in the critical swing state of Ohio, Kasich is the archetypal vice presidential candidate. The question remains, under whom would he be offered the position?

The Ohio Governor is too demographically similar and ideologically different from frontrunner Donald Trump for the business magnate to consider him for a running mate. Kasich represents a different brand of conservatism that would diversify the ticket of either Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. However, if Kasich stays in the race and continues to chip away at their delegate totals he diminishes their chances of winning the nomination and consequently his own chances of being selected as Vice President.

Following his surprise second place finish in New Hampshire, Kasich targeted Michigan as his next opportunity to influence the race. His concerted ground game efforts resulted in him taking home 24.3% of the vote on election night. This solid showing landed him in third place trailing second place finisher Ted Cruz, by a meager 0.6%. Trump continued his dominant performance securing 36.5% of the vote, granting him yet another commanding win. In theory, had Kasich opted to suspend his inevitably doomed candidacy in the lead up to Michigan, the outcome could have been quite different. A late surge of support for Cruz, facilitated by Kasich’s dropout and subsequent endorsement of him as the only viable Trump alternative, could have spurred Cruz on to victory in the state. Kasich would have simply needed to convince half of his sizable contingent of Michigan supporters to back Cruz in order for the Texas Senator to win outright, and just under a modest 10% to bolster Cruz to an even split with Trump.

Kasich’s importance moving forward lies more in his ability to shift perception than actual delegate counts. Regardless of any of the hypothetical Michigan outcomes, Trump would still be the clear overall leader. However, after a disappointing showing on Super Saturday, an additional win for Cruz would have hindered Trump’s progression and curbed the bandwagon support he has thus far relied on.

Instead, Kasich decided to press on, providing Trump with a straightforward win. Kasich’s persisting candidacy is advantageous for neither him nor the GOP establishment, serving only to further illustrate a fractured party. Conversely, a Kasich withdrawal, would hint at a Republican Party finally willing to unite behind a candidate to oppose Trump.

False hope lies ahead for Kasich in the form of the March 15th Ohio Primary. The Buckeye State is home turf for Governor Kasich and he maintains an 84% favorability rating among Ohio republicans. He sits atop recent straw polls with a five point lead over his nearest competitor, Donald Trump. If Kasich were to drop out before the Ohio Primary, his predicted 34% of the vote would be dispersed between the remaining contenders, making that race one of the most interesting and unpredictable contests so far. A Cruz or Rubio win in Ohio would keep the dream of a non-Trump nominee alive, whereas a Kasich win would force voters to pin their hopes on the possibility of a contested convention.

Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that Ohio is just one of the five states set to vote on the 15th, with Kasich polling last in the remaining four states. If Kasich stays in the race, his minority share of the votes will siphon off crucial support from Rubio and Cruz in the day’s contentious races of Florida and North Carolina. Cruz and Rubio cannot win without carrying these delegate heavy, winner take all states, leaving Kasich with no path of viability to the vice presidency upon their losses.

Kasich has vowed not to drop out before his home state of Ohio, but if he wants to make it into the White House in any capacity, that is a promise he should consider breaking.