Chun: The Frying Pan and the Flame

by Steven Chun | 4/4/16 6:01pm

“The Insane Campaign of John Kasich” — the title of a National Review article — indicates the exasperation of the usually moderate, well-reasoned conservative magazine. The article excellently summarizes the current mindset of many anti-Trump conservatives: Ted Cruz is the Republican Party’s only chance of beating Donald Trump, while John Kasich’s campaign is merely serving to better Trump’s chances. Most moderate conservatives are worried about Trump not just because of his abhorrent and largely incoherent political stances but also because of the damage his inevitable loss in the general election would do to the Republican Party. Trump’s policies, masquerading under the guise of conservatism, combined with the already fractured state of the GOP mean that a landslide loss to Hillary Clinton could send the Republican Party into disarray, causing immense and lasting damage to the party. In their desperation to avoid this political disaster, conservatives believe that they must turn to Cruz and that Kasich is running a selfish campaign. This, however, is the wrong strategy, grossly misjudging not only Kasich’s chances but also the damage a Cruz loss could cause.

Anyone so appalled by Trump that they cling to Cruz runs the risk of supporting policies that they would, in any other circumstance, find equally reprehensible. Indeed, like Trump, Cruz also wants to “build a wall” and triple border security. Cruz even supports a flat tax, and he intends to scrap the Department of Education and opposes subsidies for wind and solar energy despite their obvious economic value. And finally, the fact that should be the nail in Cruz’s coffin: he was the notorious instigator of the 2013 government shutdown and the champion of social policies young conservatives and independents alike find revolting.

In terms of Kasich’s ability to defeat Trump, the data is revealing. The statistical analysis site, FiveThirtyEight, notes that the betting markets put Trump’s chances of winning the nomination at only 56 percent. Yet the chance of a contested convention is up to 63 percent, and, if Trump fails to secure the delegates needed for the nomination, it is unlikely that he will win at the July convention. Politico describes Trump’s meager chances by pointing out that, of the 168 convention delegates from the National Republican Committee, only one publicly supports Trump. Many of Trump’s delegates would abandon him in a heartbeat if given the chance, and a contested convention provides exactly that opportunity.

Cruz faces a similar problem. Most delegates are party regulars, local officials in-step with establishment conservatism, and, as pointed out by a Washington Post title, “The Republican Establishment really, really doesn’t like Ted Cruz.” If Trump is the embodiment of conservatives’ fear and anger, Cruz is their bitterness and resentment. At the helm of the Tea Party movement, Cruz purports solving nearly a decade of partisan quagmire with ultra-partisanship. It was the Tea Party that struck the first blow resulting in the fractured, weakened and confused Republican Party we see today. A Cruz loss in the general election could spark a transition from fracture to full-on schism. With Rubio and Bush out of the race, Kasich is left as the most palatable option.

Decrying Kasich’s campaign as selfish or misguided is allowing fear to get ahead of rationality. Although Michael Bloomberg’s decision to refrain from entering the Democratic race was clearly a good decision for the Democratic Party, considering Kasich in the same light is a mistake. Rather, Kasich may be the Republican Party’s best chance to repair its image and win the election. It is no coincidence that a Wall Street Journal poll of economists shows that a Kasich presidency has the most upsides and least downsides for the economy compared to any candidate, Democrat or Republican. Kasich is likewise polling better head-to-head with Clinton than any other candidate. For any reasonable conservative, there is no reason to vote for Trump or Cruz. Kasich is the GOP’s last chance at a moderate, smart and effective candidate.