On Tuesday, Donald Trump won 60 percent of the vote in New York’s Republican primary, and 89 of the state’s 95 delegates. Perhaps the real winner, though, was Ohio governor John Kasich. His performance in the primary itself was better than usual, but objectively lackluster: he finished a distant second, earning 25 percent of the vote and 4 delegates. But more important for Kasich was that Ted Cruz fared even worse, winning just 14 percent and not a single delegate. Once everyone consulted the abacus, the implication of the New York primary was clear: there aren’t enough delegates remaining for Cruz to go into the convention with 1,237 pledged to support him on the first ballot.
Cruz’s mathematical elimination is, in itself, not a big deal: it’s true that it’s now technically impossible for him to win the nomination before the convention, but three days ago it was merely practically impossible to do so. Since Trump’s rampage through the March 15th primaries, Cruz’s chances of capturing the nomination have, realistically, been contingent on his ability to win over individual delegates on a second or third ballot at a contested convention. It’s true that he’s racked up more than 100 additional delegates since then, but that’s because there won’t be a second ballot unless Cruz keeps Trump from hitting the 1,237 threshold that clinches the nomination; the only other candidate still in the race is Kasich, and we know that Kasich has no chance of clinching the nomination prior to the convention.
The governor, in fact, was mathematically eliminated long ago, and that’s why the New York primary was such a boost for him. In the event of a contested convention, Kasich can argue that Cruz’s claims to the GOP nomination are just as flimsy as his own. In a sense, that’d be true: the best-case scenario for the GOP is one in which no one goes into the convention with a majority of the people’s support, as measured by raw votes or delegates. If so—given Cruz’s unpopularity among party elites—plenty of influential Republicans would be receptive to the idea that if the GOP is going to thwart the will of the people anyway, they shouldn’t feel that they have to accept Cruz. Kasich has already proclaimed himself the logical alternative: “Now that Cruz is now mathematically eliminated, the only diff between him and Kasich is Kasich can defeat Clinton.”
General-election matchup polls, to be fair, do show Kasich leading Hillary Clinton, and Cruz trailing her, though it’s hard to say those results are conclusive evidence of relative electability. The general election is six months away, and Kasich, having run far behind both Trump and Cruz, has received comparatively little media attention. Regardless, I think the GOP would be poorly advised to pin its hopes on the hypothetical scenario where Kasich somehow emerges as the nominee.
That’s in part because for Kasich to win would require, first, that Trump fall short on the first ballot, and, second, for Kasich to persuade individual delegates to switch their votes to him, and thus far the Ohio governor hasn’t shown nearly the same organizational precision that Cruz has. Beyond that, though, if the GOP is going to anoint a candidate without regard to the preferences of the voters, there’s no reason they’re stuck with Kasich as the sole alternative to Cruz or Trump. I suppose some might feel that it would be unduly heavy-handed to bring in a ringer like Paul Ryan, but even so, there were seventeen candidates in this primary at one point, several of whom are at least as qualified as Kasich, depending on which credentials are deemed to matter. In fact, Kasich is still trailing Marco Rubio in votes, delegates, and numbers of contests won. And Rubio, as readers might recall, dropped out more than month ago, explaining that he could see that he was unlikely to win, and that persisting was only going to hamper the GOP’s chances of stopping Trump.
Kasich, in view of the same considerations, has made a different decision. To my mind, that raises some troubling questions, especially since he’s done so little to actively interfere with Trump’s rampage. The New York delegates are the first he has won in more than a month, since the March 15th primary in his home state of Ohio. That’s the only contest, to date, that Kasich has actually won and, even more tellingly, the only contest where he even made winning a goal. He’s basically loitering in this primary, counting on Cruz to keep Trump under 1,237, so he can declare himself the only reasonable and electable alternative, thus convincing the delegates to rally to his side on a subsequent ballot. Worth a shot, I guess. But if Kasich has serious qualms about Trump and Cruz, he’s been oddly sanguine about their success thus far.