If the Republican presidential nomination ends up being decided at a contested convention, John Kasich might just win. And if he did, the Republican party would almost certainly win in November.
He's more acceptable to the party professionals (yes, I know; the "Establishment") than either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. That's because, unlike Trump or Cruz, Kasich could beat Hillary Clinton. The polls show it. The instincts of those with experience in such matters say it. The indications on the ground are there. Of the three remaining candidates for the Republican nomination, only one of them has a chance of winning in November- but unless we have a brokered convention, he has absolutely no chance of winning the nomination.
Even if John Kasich won every single delegate from here on out, he wouldn't make it to the 1,237 needed for a first ballot victory. It should be said, of course, that he never intended to. Kasich's strategy from the beginning was to be exactly where he is now: headed to the convention as the candidate with the most delegates other than Trump and Cruz (well, actually, Marco Rubio is still in that position, but that will only last until the next primary). His goal has been to pick up the pieces if Trump and Cruz both fall short, to be the obvious person the party would turn to.
And his popularity with the people who would be the delegates to the convention give him a good chance at that- but only if his scenario plays out. Many people continue to expect a contested convention. While as a Kasich supporter (and somebody who wants to beat Hillary Clinton) I'm obviously rooting for that turn of events, I'm not so sure it's going to happen. The psychology of such things tends to favor whoever has the most delegates as the primaries wind down. I can see Cruz catching Trump and ending up as the nominee. But I see Trump's nomination on the first ballot as the most likely outcome at Cleveland, and a brokered convention wth Kasich or any other third candidate emerging as the nominee as less likely than either.
I cannot put into words how much I hope I'm wrong. Time will tell. But the seemingly suicidal Republican rank-and-file, who persist in favoring the two candidates Hillary Clinton would easily defeat, would probably be livid if the "establishment" were- however legitimately, given the failure of the primaries to produce a nominee- to select the one remaining candidate who would probably defeat her.
It's not even a question of whether the Trump supporters want to continue to act out or the Cruz supporters want to continue on their ideological jag more than either wants to beat Hillary. The supporters of both are delusional on the subject. Trump supporters assume that their candidate's popularity among Republican primary voters angry about the unresponsiveness and corruption of "the "establishment" will carry over to general election voters angry because the parties don't work together so as to get things done. They fail to take into account Trump's huge unpopularity with independents and the number of Republicans who will simply not vote for him.
Cruz supporters, on the other hand, assume that their own ideologically-motivated anger at the failure of the "establishment" to more aggressively pursue a conservative agenda is the same motivation behind the anger of general-election voters. The more ideologically-oriented Republicans who generally support Cruz also have always tended to greatly overestimate their own numbers among the electorate at large, and should Cruz be nominated would be headed for a rude shock when they discover that it's precisely their own combative and sometimes obstructionist partisanship that most general election voters are angry about!
This disconnect from reality on the part of the GOP rank-and-file is what produces the odd, lemming-like drive toward electoral suicide in a year in which by all rights the Republicans should mop the floor with an exhausted incumbent party running their own highly-compromised candidate. But as Lindsey Graham said at one point this year, "dishonest beats crazy." Even Hillary Clinton figures to beat Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Even people like Graham and Mitt Romney and Carly Fiorina have climbed aboard the Cruz ship, fixated as they are on preventing Trump from getting the nomination. And they're not entirely wrong; the Republican party could probably survive a defeat with Cruz as their nominee and some sort of collective identity and infrastructure better than a defeat with the destructive and chaos-producing Trump, whose nomination might well spell the end of the party in any viable form.
It's the nature of the case that we haven't heard much about the efforts of William Kristol and various wealthy donors to recruit a third party candidate to run in the event that Trump is nominated. But they're going to have to hurry; there isn't much time to get such a candidate on the ballot. My guess is that the effort- which would remove whatever doubt remained about Trump's eventual defeat- will fail, or else a token candidate will be run as a symbolic gesture in a few states. I think it will essentially be Trump vs. Clinton, and that the disaster that portends for the Republican party not only this year but for the future will come to pass.
The second most likely possibility, I think, is that the Republican rank-and-file will sober up enough at the last moment and decide instead to go down to a less destructive and more traditional defeat behind Ted Cruz. That would mean the almost certain loss of the Supreme Court for a generation and the permanent enshrinement of Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges as the law of the land. Ironically, the triumph of the ideologically-minded wing of the Republican party would spell the final defeat of their ideology, certainly as it relates to social issues.
But after three terms in the White House by the Democrats- the last served by aging, unpopular, divisive and frankly dishonest Hillary Clinton- the White House would be, if anything, even riper for the taking in 2020 than it is today. The nomination of Trump this year might leave the party in such disarray that even those advantages wouldn't help; the moral stain on the party brand would permanently lose the party huge numbers of hitherto faithful Republicans. But the party could nevertheless survive a defeat with Cruz at the head of the ticket, and even face a bright future in 2018 and 2020.
But there is a third option: Kasich and victory this year. The party could decide that not only will Antonin Scalia be replaced by an originalist appointed by a conservative president, but that the same will be true of the two or three liberal justices who will probably leave the Court in the next four years. Roe and Obergefell could be at least substantially modified if not actually reversed, and the Constitution itself could still be saved from permanent undoing at the hands of activist left-wing justices.
It could happen- if the "establishment" gets its way at Cleveland. But it probably won't. The Republican rank-and-file- whether they be chaotic Trump supporters or ideologically rigid Cruz backers- are, I think, too angry this year to use their heads.
They are going to spend four years regretting it, but it seems likely to me at this point that the lemmings are not only going off the cliff but enthusiastically hurling themselves off it.
I cannot say how much I hope that I'm wrong. But this feels at best a great deal like 1964- and if Trump is the nominee, it's going to be much, much worse.