DULLES, Va.—Landmark Aviation sits 30 miles away from the White House, a mini private airport for those who won’t deign to wait in line at Dulles. This is the place—a bleak airport on a foggy post-primary morning, with sleek jets idling beyond the lobby’s large windows—that the John Kasich campaign chose for his reintroduction: as the only guy standing between Donald Trump and the Republican nomination, and the one who’d wrest it from the billionaire in July. Politicians typically use places like this, austere as they are, to embark on new and bold ventures. What could be bolder than staying in a presidential race when voters really don’t want you?
The Ohio governor had outlasted 16 others to make it to this moment near Washington, D.C.—the city where he worked as a young congressman, and where he aspired to be by next year. He kept his head down. He was nice when others turned bitter. And his campaign would (quixotically) continue. Kasich’s chief strategist had said as much after dismal returns on Tuesday night, and reporters gathered Wednesday morning to hear how it would go.
But Kasich never arrived, and news shortly leaked that he would drop out of the U.S. presidential race. The candidate’s plane, like his campaign itself, hadn’t successfully made it out of Ohio.
Ted Cruz had dropped out of the presidential race a little more than 14 hours earlier. The Texas senator—who was the more plausible only-guy-standing before he stepped aside Tuesday night—announced his decision after a crushing defeat in Indiana. “Together we left it all on the field. ... We gave it all we got,” Cruz said. “But the voters chose another path.” Trump had won more than 50 percent of the vote, with Kasich coming in 30 points behind Cruz. It was but the latest poor showing from Kasich in a cycle where he’d stayed in the background. He couldn’t compete with Trump, and his middle-of-the-road ethos wasn’t a match for right-wing conservatives.
There weren’t any obvious indications the candidate was about to drop out as the press assembled Wednesday morning. His campaign had announced the event on Tuesday night, along with a similar presser scheduled for Thursday. Kasich was allegedly flying in for a “full day of finance events in Maryland and Virginia”—vague, but still official-sounding.
Kasich had been saying for months that he would stick around until July. He even quoted Yogi Berra—“It ain’t over till it’s over”—to explain his persistence. Before the Ohio primary in March, his campaign seemed to be on its last legs, but he guaranteed he would stay in the race if he won his home state. “When that happens, then people will begin to see more of who I am and what my message is and what our team is all about, and then we'll be able to compete in many other states,” Kasich said. Ohio, where he is the sitting governor, ended up as the only state to give him a win during the entire primary season.
As Trump continued to rack up victories, and a contested convention seemed ever more likely, Kasich argued delegates would embrace him at the convention. He cited polls showing he could beat Hillary Clinton in a general election, and telegraphed his sunny side as Trump and Cruz amped up the anger. Though his promises always seemed far-fetched, they were consistent. Bernie Sanders similarly vowed to hang on until July, but shifted his goals as Hillary Clinton’s nomination started to seem more certain. Kasich, meanwhile, had made no such concession despite holding fewer delegates than even Marco Rubio, who dropped out in March. Although Republicans showed no signs of moving to his camp—embracing Cruz, not Kasich, to take down the real-estate mogul—he still seemed hopeful about combatting the emerging consensus that Trump would be the nominee. Tuesday night, with its puny returns, must have been a blow. The chairman of the Republican National Committee declared Trump the cycle’s victor, and prominent Republicans—along with many Democrats—were predicting the end of the republic by fall.
And so 30-plus reporters had assembled at the airport to hear Kasich’s plan. They paced the gray carpet, settled on slate couches, and set up cameras to broadcast his coming statements. But within the hour, a campaign staffer made the announcement that would foreshadow the end of her job: The presidential candidate, despite the scheduled event, hadn’t yet left Columbus. He had reportedly boarded the plane to D.C. before deciding not to get off the ground.