On Thursday, I traveled to a candidate town hall in Jericho, N.Y., to check out the nagging rumor that John Kasich is still running for president. I can confirm he remains a candidate. As to why, well, your guess is as good as mine.
To be sure, Kasich has an argument as to why he remains in the race — according to the polls, he’s the only candidate who can defeat Hillary Clinton in a general election. And as he yelled out Thursday after being asked tough questions from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on why he’s staying in the race, “I’m the candidate of hope.”
The problem, however, is that Republican voters have made it quite clear they are not interested in what Kasich is selling.
To date, there have 36 primaries or caucuses held for Republican voters. Kasich has won one of them, in his home state of Ohio. That is the one race that he is supposed to win. He’s won actual delegates in 14 states and he’s finished second in the voting only four times. That is a Rubio-esque tale of political futility.
At this point, it is mathematically impossible for him to win enough delegates between now and the convention in Cleveland to get the Republican nomination.
Certainly it can be said that in a year of anger and fear on the Republican side, Kasich is the only candidate offering GOP voters a more positive message. That counts for something. It’s also what Kasich voters like best about him. “He can bring people together,” one voter said to me. He’s not “crazy like Trump” or “too conservative” like Cruz, said another. He has governing “experience,” and for the vanishing breed of fiscally conservative but socially liberal Republicans, Kasich is on the money (that of course means ignoring Kasich’s long record of strident opposition to abortion in Ohio).
But the thing with Kasich is that when you go beyond his platitudes about coming together and being positive, not negative, which make him sound more like a motivational speaker than a presidential candidate, there’s just not a lot of there there.
His policy ideas sound the Republican Party’s Greatest Hits of the 1990s — cutting the deficit, freezing new government regulations, block-granting federal spending programs to the states. Voters have heard these ideas and rejected them, repeatedly. And this cycle, in particular, there’s just no evidence that a majority of GOP voters have any interest in Kasich’s outdated brand of fiscal conservatism.
On foreign policy, Kasich is even more out of his depth. “We don’t need more war,” he said in Jericho, only a moment before he said “if China cyberattacks us we’ll take out their systems” (whatever that actually means). This is the guy who said the United States should punch Putin in the face, interdict North Korean ships, and support Japan if it increases tensions with Pyongyang.
If Kasich were some kind of policy dynamo with great ideas for helping the country, one could perhaps see the rationale for him to stay in the race. But in reality, all he’s selling is the fact that he’s not as antagonistic and bombastic as Trump or Cruz.
Kasich will say that anything can happen at the Republican convention. And I suppose that’s true, but a political campaign predicated on overturning the will of GOP voters, and the remote possibility that somehow Kasich could emerge as a compromise candidate in a party that has firmly rejected him at the polls, is, to say the least, a stretch. Indeed, in Jericho, his first audience question basically amounted to “why are you still running if you’re not winning votes.” And that was from someone who appeared to be a Kasich supporter.
By continuing his hopeless campaign, he is making it that much harder for Republicans to unite behind a candidate and, in the process, is likely helping Trump, the one candidate Kasich rails against the most. It’s hard not to conclude that Kasich’s decision to remain in the race is as much about his vast ego as it is his desire to be the Republican white knight who can unite the party behind him. At the very least, there’s not much evidence he’s the latter.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.