CHARLESTON, S.C., Feb. 23, 2016 — Every four years, one Republican presidential contender insists on being the darling of the liberal media. That Republican gets feted with praise for being a Republican that Democrats could actually vote for.
Such candidates are willing to be seen as warm, fuzzy Republicans willing to stand up to those mean, evil heartless beasts known as conservatives. In 2008, there was John McCain. 2012 saw the New York Times wing of the Republican Party swoon over Jon Huntsman Jr. Now, the four or five Republicans who read David Brooks are drooling over Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
While 99 percent of Republicans rejected Huntsman, Kasich has been dismissed by only between 90 and 92 percent of GOP voters. In his triumphant New Hampshire finish, barely 84 percent of the electorate preferred someone other than Kasich.
Businessman Donald Trump, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are waging a serious campaign for the presidency. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush saw the handwriting on the wall, dropping out the day after after his dismal South Carolina finish. Bush actually finished ahead of Kasich in terms of South Carolina votes and self-awareness.
To understand why Kasich refuses to leave the race requires puncturing the John Kasich myths.
Myth: Kasich won re-election in Ohio because he was beloved.
Fact: Kasich got lucky. His Democrat opponent got caught up in a sex scandal that dragged down the entire Ohio Democratic Party. Kasich won re-election with 64 percent of the vote because he faced the weakest gubernatorial candidate in the country.
Myth: Kasich broke the unions in Ohio.
Fact: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faced an all-out war from the unions in his state. He beat them in three elections, including a recall election. Kasich, when faced with a similar revolt in Ohio, backed down. Despite having a Republican legislature, Kasich surrendered to the left. Walker was reviled, but his agenda survived. Kasich enhanced his personal likability while losing the overall policy battle.
Myth: Kasich did well in New Hampshire by impressing the voters.
Fact: Kasich had miserable debate performances, including one where he appeared unhinged. He trailed badly in New Hampshire until the Feb. 6 debate, three days before the New Hampshire primary. At the same time, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had his only bad debate performance to date, getting leveled by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Kasich sat back and watched Christie annihilate Rubio, resulting in mutually assured destruction. Christie’s aggressive performance knocked Rubio down and Christie out. Kasich was an establishment default option. Rubio quickly recovered, reducing Kasich to an afterthought.
Myth: Kasich is running a national campaign.
Fact: Kasich barely competed in Iowa. He lost badly, finishing eighth in a field of 10 candidates with 1.9 percent of the vote. Like many niche candidates before him, he wanted a pass on this performance because he never tried to win it.
Additionally, Kasich barely competed in South Carolina. He again lost badly, finishing fifth in a field of six with 7.6 percent of the vote. Kasich is also refusing to compete in Nevada, having skipped the state altogether. Like Iowa and South Carolina, he can declare a poor Nevada finish to be irrelevant because he did not try to win.
Myth: Kasich has crossover appeal. Democrats will support him.
Fact: The streets are littered with Republicans who were praised by Democrats until an actual Democrat appeared. John McCain and Mitt Romney were reasonable moderates until Democrats fell in love with Barack Obama. At that moment, McCain and Romney both became evil right-wing zealots. The comparisons to Hitler were as boring as they were expected. Kasich can hug every Democrat in America. He can share a good cry with every Democrat with a need to emote. Once an actual Democrat wins his or her primary, the New York Times will devour Kasich with a brutal ferocity.
In 2016, the United States of America is polarized, as polarized as it has ever been. Conservatives are enraged with a leftist president who demonizes them at every opportunity. Conservatives do not want to sing “Kumbaya” hand-in-hand with Democrats. They want a hard-charging person willing to rip out liberalism’s throat and bury it underground forever.
The Republican candidates most hostile to Obama are dominating in the polls. Conservatives do not want to let bygones be bygones. They want justice, believing that only bare-knuckle conservatism is the way to get it.
Kasich’s quest for the presidency is about to cross the line from political endeavor to vanity project. The best way to dispel this image is to win something, somewhere, anywhere.
It starts with having the courage to compete nationally rather than skipping three of the first four states.
While Trump, Rubio and Cruz battle to win Nevada, Kasich has had Vermont all to himself.
Meanwhile, states with closed primaries where only Republicans can vote will bring the necessary reality check to this entire campaign.
Kasich can continue to refuse to leave the race. Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of the GOP electorate will ignore him and focus on the three serious choices still remaining.