The Ohio governor stands the best shot at appealing to moderates, which the GOP needs to win.
The Republicans are damned if they nominate Donald Trump, but only possibly damned if they don’t.
Governor John Kasich’s big primary win in his home state of Ohio on Tuesday night has increased the likelihood that none of the remaining Republican presidential candidates will have the votes necessary to win the nomination going into the Republican National Convention this summer. So, it is looking likely that the delegates at the convention will end up picking the nominee themselves.
In considering a candidate, the delegates will need to choose the person who best represents the views and values of the GOP, as well as someone who could take on and actually stands a chance at beating the Democratic nominee in the general election. While the delegates could technically nominate anyone they want, if they were to focus solely on the remaining candidates, they would bewise to choose Governor John Kasich.
While Governor Kasich will probably enter the convention with the least amount of delegates among the two remaining Republican candidates, Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, he stands head and shoulders above both in terms of experience and electability. Despite his lackluster showing in the primaries, Kasich is the only Republican candidate left in the race who has consistentlyshown in poll after poll that he can beat Hillary Clinton in the general election—and do it by a healthy margin.
Kasich’s positive campaigning and record of fiscal discipline play well with voters of the “mighty middle,” which is made up of moderate Republicans, conservative (‘blue dog’ or Reagan) Democrats, as well as independents and the chronically undecided.
Winning the mighty middle is imperative for Republicans given the numbers. There are 41.5 million registered Democrats and only 30.5 million registered Republicans. So whoever ends up being the GOP nominee not only needs to turn out the party base in large numbers, they also need to win over the majority of the mighty middle, and even perhaps a few moderate Democrats as well.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to see either Trump or Cruz doing well with moderate voters, let alone winning them over. Many Republicans seem to relate to Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said on the campaign trail in January that a choice between Trump and Cruz is like “being shot or poisoned.”
Cruz is by far the least electable of the two. The Texas senator takes pride in being an uncompromising religious zealot which, while great for the far right fringes of the Republican party, isn’t as attractive to moderates, let alone any voting bloc further to the left, which Cruz must win to have a shot at the White House. Cruz’s policy of undoing practically everything the Obama Administration has done over the last eight years may have played well with some, but it won’t do as well with moderate and conservative Democrats, especially those who are not religious. Furthermore, his tax plan is highly regressive, which is a turn off to conservative Democrats and low income voters. It would also add trillions of dollars to the national debt, which will not please fiscal conservatives, many of whom are Republican Party members.
If it weren’t for the handful of right-wing billionaires who initially seeded his campaign with eight-figure contributions, Cruz would have never been able to raise the funds to run (thanks, Citizen’s United). If Cruz is the Republican Party’s nominee, Clinton would likely obliterate him in the general election.
To be sure, mighty middle voters have placed a few radical ideologues, like Cruz and Trump, into the White House over the years. But they have only done so when the economy was in serious trouble, which, despite all the chatter this election cycle to the contrary, really isn’t doing that poorly at the moment. Indeed, the stock market is strong and relatively stable, interest rates are low, credit is easy to access, unemployment is below 5%, and inflation is basically at zero.
Could the economy be doing better? Sure, economic growth has been anemic for a while, but it doesn’t appear as if the country is headed into a recession anytime soon. And while wages haven’t grown as fast as some would like (have they ever?), it isn’t crushing the purchasing power of Americans, as both inflation and gasoline prices remain relatively weak.
Despite the facts, though, Trump, has been trying to appeal to voters in the middle by playing fast and loose with the truth on the state of the economy. For example, Trump often tells voters in his stump speeches that the unemployment rate is far higher than what the government claims:
“Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9% and 5% unemployment,” Trump told supporters in a victory speech following his win in New Hampshire. “The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42%.”
Those numbers are beyond ludicrous. Even during the Great Depression, unemployment in the U.S. never topped 25%, let alone 42%. While there are many other ways to measure unemployment, the highest official rate (U6), which includes marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons, comes in at only 9.7%. Politifacts reviewed Trump’s quote and came to a similar conclusion, noting that the New York business man’s claim was “Pants on Fire,” meaning that it was a total and outright lie.
Nonetheless, Trump has been somewhat successful in convincing at least a few Americans that the economy is in dire straits. He does this not with facts but by saying that the nation’s leaders (the Obama Administration) are stupid. His merciless attack on free trade, foreigners, migrant workers, and undocumented immigrants have served him brilliantly. It has allowed him to play on the fears of a minority of white Americans who, and let’s just be honest here, aren’t fans of the growing racial diversity within the American population.
The truth is, only a small (very small) minority of Americans have recently lost their jobs to an immigrant or live in fear of losing their job to a foreigner in the wake of some errant trade deal. Consider some of the states where Trump has won big, like those in the deep South. It is strange how voters in these states identify with losing manufacturing jobs to Mexico when the number of such jobs are on the rise all across the region. For example, since 2010, Alabama’s manufacturing workforce has grown by 20,000, while those in Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina have grown by around 40,000 each. Ironically, many of these jobs have come courtesy of foreign automakers, like Mercedes, Hyundai, BMW, and Volkswagen, which have set up plants in the region to sell cars to Americans. Something else is clearly “angering” these voters.
Trump’s economic message ultimately rings hollow, while his other messages appeal to a small minority of Americans who still rue the day that President Lyndon Johnson betrayed the South and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While you will find fans of Trump’s message everywhere in the country, they aren’t concentrated in large enough numbers in the swing states Republicans need to win to counter Hillary Clinton. Those conservatives who are unhappy with Trump’s message simply won’t come out and vote while the vast majority of those in the mighty middle will come out and vote for anyone who isn’t Trump. It would be a political bloodbath for Republicans and Hillary Clinton will be the beneficiary.
The only way the Republicans can salvage this election cycle is by supporting a moderate conservative, like John Kasich. The economy simply isn’t bad enough to warrant a radical shift to the right or the left. Furthermore, the Republican delegates at the convention should not fear Trump breaking away and forming a third party with his supporters. They should instead welcome the schism and say, “good riddance.” Catering to that vocal minority is the reason why the Republican Party is losing. It has alienated scores of conservatives who are embarrassed to identify themselves as Republicans. The conservatives lost in the middle will only come back to the party if it takes a strong line against the intolerance Trump has espoused. At this point, Kasich is the only Republican candidate who can bring his party members together.