Kasich campaiging in Wisconsin

Image courtesy of C-Span

Trump and Cruz in Agreement:
Kasich Must Go

| published April 4, 2016 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

For once, Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are in total agreement on something.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has been saying for more than a month that Ohio Governor John Kasich should step aside and allow Cruz to rally the Republican Party’s anti-Trump forces. Now Trump has joined-in, saying that Kasich is stealing potential votes from his insurgent, anti-establishment campaign.

In the wake of Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s crushing defeat in the Sunshine State in March, Kasich has remained the only candidate other than Cruz to challenge front-runner Trump’s gathering momentum to the nomination. Kasich, who won in his home state of Ohio, told reporters and followers that he plans to remain in the race until the convention. Cruz has said that Kasich has no path toward winning the nomination, and has urged the Ohio Governor to step aside and let the battle become one-on-one, Cruz versus Trump.

For once in a month of bitter, often personal campaigning and brutal attacks, Trump is in total agreement with Cruz. Trump says that Kasich is hindering the GOP’s progress, and, worse, robbing him of key votes in a battle which has now turned into a street fight for the loyalty of every delegate. In such a state-by-state war, Trump says, Kasich must go—allowing voters a clear choice and opening Trump’s path toward Cleveland in July.

Both Trump and Cruz assume, of course, that potential Kasich supporters in those states which have not yet vote can be successfully wooed. Each now assumes that they would grab the lion’s share.

And though it is not clear that Trump would benefit the most from a stage-left exit by Kasich, Trump—in fact most political observers suggest Cruz would be the likely beneficiary—Trump is now demanding that the Republican National Committee exert pressure to force Kasich from the race.

Trump says that Kasich’s win in Ohio was a fluke—an easy win in a season of otherwise fair-to-middling or lousy showings by Kasich, who has yet to win any other state’s primary or caucus. Trump points out that all other second-tier people are gone—Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, the list is endless—and that it is time for Kasich to wake up a smell the dead flowers. Trump also openly complains that as long as Kasich remains an active candidate, the GOP establishment and some anti-Trump forces will use his (Kasich’s) campaign as a wedge to damage Trump, deliberately denying him (Trump) of critical votes, and thus delegates.

“Kasich shouldn’t be allowed to continue and the RNC shouldn’t allow him to continue,” Trump said in Milwaukee this week. “I mentioned it to the RNC…why is this guy allowed to run? All he does is go from place to place and he keeps losing.”

Kasich doesn’t see it that way, and has repeatedly told his supporters that he intends to take his political fight—which he believes is for the heart and soul of the real GOP—all the way to Cleveland. Kasich also makes no apologies for his intended goal: arrive at what may be a deadlocked convention, wait for Trump to fail on the first round of balloting, then steadily rally others to switch allegiance, propelling him forward as the common-sense, experience-based, core GOP-value savior. Kasich said as much over the weekend in appearances on the Sunday morning political shows.

Trump has said he doesn’t even mind if Kasich really wants to have someone toss the governor’s name into contention in Cleveland; no harm, no foul, have fun. But in the meantime, Trump is adamant, and increasingly angry, that Kasich “is taking votes” in primaries and caucuses in a pointless, losing crusade.

Kasich has flatly said that Trump doesn’t understand democracy, and that Trump’s heavy-handed demand that Kasich cease and desist is proof that the billionaire is a narcissist and a bully.

“That’s not how our republic works, Donald,” Kasich said this weekend.

The stage is thus set for something that most American voters have not seen in generations: an actual floor fight at a national convention. The last time the Republicans held a convention in which the candidates were still fighting for the nomination after the first gavel was in 1964, when the GOP met in the Cow Palace in San Francisco. That year, a bitter fight for control of the party was waged, with the insurgent forces of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater battled with the mainline, liberal, Eastern wing of the party, then led by Nelson Rockefeller. Goldwater prevailed, but the party was deeply damaged, setting the stage for a savage defeat in November at the hands of President Lyndon Johnson.

Since then, the Republican Party has experienced real drama only once, in 1976, when President Gerald Ford fought challenger Ronald Reagan for the loyalty of every delegate—a nip-and-tuck fight that lasted right up to the doors of the convention in Kansas City. Ford prevailed by narrowly edging out Reagan just before the convention came to order, and the GOP quickly declared peace and love amongst its intra-party factions. Since then, Republican conventions have been coronations—carefully staged events with few surprises and few off-script moments (Clint Eastwood’s macabre presentation in 2012 is one famous exception to the general rule of sticking to the script and the talking points).

But with each passing week—each passing day, in fact—the GOP inches closer to the possibility that it will convene a raucous, freewheeling, exceedingly unpredictable confab in Cleveland in July, just the sort of high-octane spectacle risk-averse Republicans have fought for decades to avoid. This week, the dire predictions are reaching another boiling point as Trump and Cruz fight bitterly in Wisconsin, the next major contest, and one in which a Cruz win will surely prolong the fight and raise the stakes even more.

Cruz wants to rally all the anti-Trump forces behind his campaign and his message, and he says that failure to back him now—when the delegate fight is at its most critical—is a ticket to disaster in November, something similar to what the GOP faced in 1964. Trump, conversely, has begun talking in apocalyptic terms; weeks ago he intoned that there would be riots if he is denied the nomination. That’s the good news, some analysts now say. The bad news—beyond the spectacle of pepper spray and tear gas and cops in Kevlar—is that the GOP may be nearing a point of no return in which the vanquished armies—those of either Trump or Cruz—may stage the most catastrophic walkout ever seen by a major American political party, and the most divisive since Teddy Roosevelt parted with the GOP to run on a third party ticket.

Several political experts—including some who have been lifelong Republicans—now put the odds of a GOP “open convention” (the nice terminology for a “contested convention” or brokered convention) at well over 50%. That the GOP would be in such an uncertain, uneasy state this late in the primary season is shocking enough, but the now very real possibility that such a brokered affair may be accompanied by a dramatic walk-out, or some form of shearing off of a large part of the party in search of a third path, surely sets the stage for what—in the least-case scenario—would be the most significant reset/reboot the GOP has ever seen. In the worst-case, the Republican Party may cease to exist after this fall. What will spring up from its ashes is not clear, just as it is unclear what third party might emerge to serve as a home for either Trump’s forces or the anti-Trump legions.

In Wisconsin, Cruz holds an edge in most polls, though his advantage may yet prove fleeting. If Cruz wins there, it could be bad news for the GOP. If Trump wins there, it could be bad news for the GOP. Either way, Republicans will face a long hot summer and the strong possibility of a...umm…boisterous, noisy convention.

Trump has lumbered forward over the last ten days despite what was arguably his most challenging and difficult stretch yet. Major gaffes, unforced errors, and stupendous fumbles on everything from nuclear weapons to abortion to the Supreme Court to NATO have done little to chip away at Trump’s seemingly bullet-proof support. Numerous polls now show that those voters aligned to Trump no longer care a whit about his occasional stumbles or his outrageous, bellicose language.

Furthermore, even fidelity to conservatism no longer serves as a key distinction nor as a litmus test; Trump can blunderbuss his way through any china shop, break any glassware, smash any furniture, even fire buckshot into the walls—his loyal cadres are now with him to the end, energized by his populist appeal and his call to tear down establishment shibboleths. To make matters worse for the Republican Party, attempts by the anti-Trump forces to derail the billionaire continue to merely solidify Trump’s support and burnish the real estate mogul’s reputation as the consummate outsider, feared by Washington and hated by entrenched politicians.

Some numbers experts have crunched the figures and a consensus is forming that Trump will almost certainly not arrive in Cleveland with enough votes to win on the first ballot. The billionaire could come up short by anywhere from 90 to 190 votes, depending on how several future close states fall. Trump has said he deserves the nomination anyway, if only because of his ability to attract so many voters to the polls and convert so much energy on behalf of the GOP. Denying him the nomination through procedural trickery or loopholes in the rules is tantamount to stealing the election, he has frequently suggested.

In other words, watch Wisconsin and its now all-important primary (the state was, ironically, the birthplace of the GOP and first state in the nation to choose to hold a primary) sets the stage for the immediate future of the Republican Party.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Will the GOP Loyalty Pledge Get Shredded?; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; March 30, 2016.

Trump Threatens Lawsuit Over Louisiana Delegates; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; March 28, 2016.