John Kasich’s Survival Strategy

The Ohio governor has basically no chance of winning the Republican nomination, but hanging on until the Convention may prove smart.

Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

John Kasich is making a simple pitch: He’s different. Without naming Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, he delivered an extensive attack against their policies in a speech in Manhattan on Tuesday, arguing that voters are faced with two paths in the presidential elections. One is with Kasich; the other could “drive America down into a ditch and not make us great again.”

At this point in the race, the Ohio governor stands little chance of securing the Republican nomination for president. But Kasich, always the optimist, appeared confident. He seems to be hoping for renewed relevance in the upcoming Northeastern primaries. Ahead of the New York primary on April 19, where polls show him slightly ahead of Cruz, Kasich is campaigning in the state in hopes of coming in second.

On Tuesday, the governor’s remarks threaded together arguments he’s previously made in town-hall-style events—a kind of super stump speech specifically tailored to his opponents. “We have heard proposals to create a religious test for immigration, to target neighborhoods for surveillance, impose draconian tariffs which would crush trade and destroy American jobs,” Kasich said. “We have heard proposals to drop out of NATO, abandon Europe to Russia, possibly use nuclear weapons in Europe, end our defense partnerships in Asia, and tell our Middle East allies that they have to go it alone. We have been offered hollow promises to impose a value-added tax, balance budgets through simple and whimsical cuts in ‘waste, fraud, and abuse.’”

So far in the presidential primary, Kasich has only won his home state. But as my colleague Molly Ball noted in March, despite Kasich’s exuberant victory speech that night, the delegate math was already stacked against him. Kasich stands at 143 delegates, trailing behind Donald Trump at 743 and Ted Cruz at 545, according to the AP. To secure the nomination, a candidate needs to acquire at least 1,237 delegates—a nearly insurmountable challenge for the Kasich campaign.

Still, Kasich is insisting on sticking it out through the Republican primary, perhaps in the hopes that he’ll have some influence at the GOP Convention this summer. “It will become a very serious, heavy matter when we get into that convention, and it’s all about the delegates,” Kasich said at a CNN town hall on Monday. He believes delegates faced with a choice between Trump and Cruz will turn to him. His opponents’ campaigns are reportedly working on keeping Kasich’s name from appearing on the convention ballot.

There’s an irony in Kasich’s tactic. In an election cycle largely driven by anti-establishment fury, he is the centrist, establishment candidate. He wants voters to disregard Robert Frost’s advice and ignore the path “less traveled”—and the comparatively radical proposals of his opponents. “This path solves nothing, demeans our history, weakens our country and cheapens each of us. It has but one beneficiary and that is to the politician who speaks of it,” Kasich said. “The other path is the one America has been down before. It is well trod, it is at times steep, but it is solid.”

Meanwhile, Kasich continues to split the vote in state contests, preventing candidates from securing a majority of delegates, which may subsequently lead to a brokered convention. Kasich’s path forward may have little to do with his ideological offerings, but whether he can hang on until July and create a contested nomination.